Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Paint Romney as flip-flopper or right-winger? Both/and!

Methinks New York Times reporter Helene Cooper has posed a false choice for the Obama campaign.  But then, John Sides and Kevin Drum both accept the terms, so maybe I'm missing something.

As a plan of attack against Romney, Cooper asks:
Do they go the flip-flopper route? Or do they go the out-of-touch, protector-of-Wall-Street route?
Cooper acknowledges that the two paths may not be mutually exclusive. But then, recounting the campaign's pursuit of the flip-flopper meme, she undercuts that caveat:

But there’s a kink in that approach: independent voters might view Mr. Romney’s shifting positions as nothing other than pragmatism. And by highlighting evolving positions by Mr. Romney, political analysts say, the Obama campaign runs the risk of unintentionally promoting the image of Mr. Romney, the former governor of that bastion of liberalism, Massachusetts, as a moderate.

In the general election, that would be the equivalent of the Obama campaign shooting itself in the foot. The very thing that has made Mr. Romney less palatable to the conservatives who populate the Republican primaries and caucuses — his past moderate positions—is the thing that makes him, at the end of the day, more palatable to the independent voters who will show up in the general election.
Isn't this backwards?  Independents might like the Romney of "past moderate positions" -- but he's flip-flopped away from them!  Nonetheless, John Sides provides the expert imprimatur:
Mr. Sides said American voters reacted negatively to candidates they perceived as ideologically extreme. Mr. Romney, he suggests, is still, in the eyes of many people, more moderate than the rest of the Republican field, despite his campaign shifts to the right.

“It might be more effective to concentrate on the conservatism,” Mr. Sides argued. “If your goal is to make Romney seem like a conservative ideologue, then bringing up his pragmatic past as the governor of Massachusetts is a bit dissonant.”
 Kevin Drum, in assent, adds some voting bloc anthropology:
My guess: the flip-flopper charge probably won't get much traction. It's mostly a problem for conservatives, who don't fully trust that Romney is one of them, but by the time summer rolls around they're going to be his most fire-breathing supporters. They'll have long since decided to forgive and forget, and independents won't care that much in the first place as long as Romney seems halfway reasonable in his current incarnation. It's possible that Obama can do both — Romney is a flip-flopper and a right-wing nutcase! — but if he has to choose, my guess is that he should forget about the flip-flopping and simply do everything he can to force Romney into the wingnut conservative camp. That'll be his big weakness when Labor Day rolls around.
It seems to me, though, that the flip-flopper charge and the extremist charge are complementary.  Romney, in pursuit of a nomination prize awarded by the Republican base, has flip-flopped into extremism: no new taxes, no universal healthcare, no abortion, no attempts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, no aid to homeowners, no job-creating measures that involve federal spending, no accommodation for Gingrich-styled "deserving" undocumented aliens.  Each of these positions represents a reversal of a past position (except perhaps aid to hurting homeowners).

The point is that Romney has repudiated his pragmatism to accommodate Republican rejectionism -- repudiating his past repudiation of Reaganism and embracing a far more rigid ideological purity than Reagan ever did.  The line of attack seems pretty seamless to me.

Perhaps this is what I'm missing:  are Cooper, Sides and Drum  imagining a scenario in which nominee Romney runs hard back to the center and gets slammed for that?  Some new revenue? - maybe...Let some core elements of Obamacare stand? - maybe...  But wouldn't that be one set of flip-flops too many?


  1. Andy maybe you can find my similar comment on Kevin's site. In short Friend of Wall Street <> rightwing ideologue. First Mitt isn't a rightwinger. FoWS is an exact description of Mitt Beta (Bain), 1.0 (Mass), 2.0 (2008) and now 2012's 3.0. Nobody likes FoWS's not Tpartiers, not 99%ers, not even Austrians. Even Newt and Rick were going after Mitt's bank connections today. That's the line of attack.

  2. Hi phonerangerK I agree that Friend of Wall Street may be the nub of the matter, but there's also warmonger Mitt, immigrant-bashing Mitt, anti-abortion Mitt and no-new-taxes Mitt. In any case, perhaps this latest line of attack from the Obama admin will hearten you (from Plum Line evening roundup):

    Today Romney denounced the Cordray appointment as “Chicago style politics at its worst.” The Obama campaign responds:

    “Mitt Romney today stood with predatory lenders and Republicans in Congress over the middle class. He doubled down on his promise to eliminate the Wall Street watchdog and allow Wall Street to write its own rules again, leaving consumers vulnerable to hidden fees, financial traps and excessive risk taking that will hit their pocketbooks. Governor Romney has made clear he has not learned the lessons of the economic crisis, instead, he’s giving the most irresponsible financial actors a bright green light to pursue profit at any cost to communities across America.”

  3. I think Kevin Drum is wrong about this. The flip-flopper charge will resonate with independent/moderate voters, just like it did in 2004 with Kerry.

    The whole point of the flip-flopper charge is that the man is unpredictable. So, whatever policy preferences you have (be they liberal, moderate, or hard-core right wing), you cannot be sure that Mitt will carry them out if he is elected.

    And besides, the Village media idiots love that stuff. They're terrified of the "liberal bias" label, so they won't call out right-wing policy lunacy.... but they'll definitely run with the character issue - especially if the Obama campaign emphasizes it.

  4. The problem is that I've encountered several moderate/centrist types who are considering supporting Romney over Obama because they assume Romney is a moderate at heart, no matter how extreme his campaign rhetoric has become during the bruising primary. So oddly, focusing on how shamelessly he flip-flops may give some people the idea that he'll just pivot back to the center once he makes it to the White House. I think this assumption is a grave mistake, but it's one that I believe many voters are going to make.

  5. Kylopod, show those moderate/centrists Jonathan Bernstein's post in the Washington Monthly's "What if Obama Loses?" series: Presidents generally keep their campaign promises, and if he wins Romney will be bound by the promises he's made in primary season, his hand most likely forced by a GOP Congress.

  6. Also, does it really matter whether the charges are consistent with one another, or if the narrative makes sense? Obama will run ads where Mitt Romney is saying two completely opposite things, and the American people will think that is bad. And then they'll run ads where he is saying crazy things that are too extreme for America, and they'll think that's bad too.

    In campaign media land, maybe consistency matters, but most Americans don't live in that land and will just be getting vague impressions. That's perfectly compatible with both flip flopper and extremist without even requiring a story to make them compatible.