Hilary Rosen. Bill Maher. Rush Limbaugh. Foster Friess. Even Ted Nugent.

They are the non-surrogate surrogates of the 2012 presidential campaign — consultants, public figures or quasi-celebrities who sometimes thrive on the fringes, throwing rhetorical bombs that ripple for days across the Twitterverse, the blogs and the cable networks. And they’re making the task of campaign message control both more complex — and more urgent — than in previous cycles.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are free to crack down on staff or paid operatives who violate the rules of iron-clad message discipline. Not so some of the freelance bomb-throwers, who have little incentive to stick to the script, especially when the most outrageous comments garner the most attention.

Controlling these pseudo messengers is harder than meets the eye — especially since their comments often draw nods of recognition or even a “Hell, yes!” from the candidate’s base. Push back too hard from campaign headquarters, and risk alienating fans. Stay silent or offer a mild tsk-tsk, and your opponent will spend days highlighting the off-key remarks.

 

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