Last week, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's Democratic nominee for the Senate, was asked in an editorial board meeting whether she had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Grimes hemmed and hawed, obviously scared to say yes. That outraged some, including NBC's Chuck Todd, who said: "Is she ever going to answer a tough question on anything? ... I think she disqualified herself." No question, Grimes botched this badly. But this episode gets at the odd set of unspoken rules that dictate what gets designated a gaffe. When Joni Ernst, the Republican Senate candidate in Iowa, flirted with conspiracy theory that the United States and U.N. were forcing rural people to relocate to urban centers, pundits didn't see it as disqualifying. They also didn't find it disqualifying when Tom Cotton, a Republican Senate candidate from Arkansas, said ISIS was now working with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate America. In the past few years, there's a baseline of crazy from the right that the press has simply come to expect and accept, so the latest conspiracy theorizing no longer strikes them as exceptional.
Paul Waldman, The Washington Post