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The stage was perfect - broad daylight, clear field of view for all the media, enough distance and background noise so nobody but the President and Governor could hear what was being said, but the physical gestures making it clear to everyone that something was going on. And leaving the details to she-said-he-said accounting.
Then the Governor said her say: "thin skinned," "patronizing," "I'm sorry he felt that way." Clear, emotive headline words.
And the President's people were silent. Until later, when the story had defined itself, when the long-winded response was, well, long winded.
So what else did the President say or do in Arizona? Gee - dunno - the story was about a finger-wagging Governor chewing out the leader of the free world.
What would have been wrong with a rapid response: "She accosted him right as he got off the airplane." "Not the time or the place for this kind of conversation." "This isn't the kind of behavior we'd expect from a mature political figure."
The GOP is getting pretty good at this, from Cong. Joe Wilson's "You Lie!" in the SOTU, the disruptive Tea Party operatives in town meetings, and so on. The story becomes the misbehavior, not the substantive issues.
If you have to lose control of the day, might as well make the story about the misbehavior of the other side. And, perhaps, build a theme which can resonate with the political middle who, we can hope, want adults in the room when the government is being run.