Thursday, April 19, 2012

Paint Romney as a conservative who's flipped his last flop

Some see a contradiction in the Obama camp trying to paint Mitt Romney both as a flip-flopping opportunist and as an extreme conservative.  If it comes down a choice, both sides of the equation have their detractors. Political scientist John Sides has suggested that the flip-flop charge won't resonate (a view seconded by Kevin Drum), while Romney supporter Saul Anuzis asserts, in an article by Washington Post reporter Amy Gardner framing the two attack approaches, “Mitt Romney does not scare people. He’s not a scary candidate. Regardless of his views or how he’s expressed them, he’s always been very thoughtful, rational."

That is true. But the point is not that Romney is inherently a raving lunatic but that he's let the demands of his hard-right party remake him.  I  have argued before that the two approaches -- Romney as opportunist and Romney as ultraconservative vehicle -- are complementary.  And it seems to me that Obama campaign spox Ben LaBolt, quoted by Gardner, combines them effectively:

“During the primaries, Governor Romney labeled himself the ‘ideal tea party candidate’ and ‘severely conservative’ and committed to a series of policies that reflect those labels,” said Ben LaBolt, Obama’s campaign spokesman. “There’s no doubt that Governor Romney has lost trust with voters across the political spectrum for making promises that he then walked away from when the political audience changed. But what’s also clear is that the platform he is running on this year is ‘severely conservative.’ ”
Is that so complex? He has no core, he would shake the Etch-A-Sketch if he could, but he has committed himself in unequivocal language to a set of extreme positions that his own party won't let him evade.

On the other hand, this formulation, also quoted by Gardner, seems to me to cross the wires:
“The real Mitt Romney is someone who has a series of policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class,” said former White House aide Bill Burton, a spokesman for Priorities U.S.A., an independent group supporting Obama.
Let's not bring a 'real Romney' into it -- There should be no such animal as far as the Obama campaign is concerned. Burton's contention that Romney pesonal inclinations tilt rightward could be folded in, but not so far as to suggest that he has a "conservative core," which the headline to Gardner's article frames as the desired message. No core, Plouffe's tag, is better.  There is opportunist Romney, who will say anything and adopt any position to get elected, and there is committed Romney, whose current policy positions have been set in concrete by his extremist party. He is not an Etch-A-Sketch, who can shake himself at will, but a Ouija Board, to be played by the GOP base. itself.  He has no core, but he's been cast in a mold that won't be broken until the GOP transforms itself.. That is, until hell freezes over.

Update, 4/23: Noam Scheiber also adopts the both/and approach to the conservative-or-flipp-flopper conundrum:
The first-order benefit of the 1996 strategy is obvious: The right-wing views Romney has adopted will turn off women, independents, and Latinos, all of them key voting blocs. The second-order benefit is more of a bank-shot: Having been labeled a conservative, Romney must protest more explicitly that he’s not a conservative, which draws more attention to the general election makeover he’s trying to pull off (as seamlessly and unobtrusively as possible), which annoys conservatives already suspicious of Romney’s bona fides, which compels Romney to prove that he is in fact a conservative. So by arguing that Romney is a conservative, the Obama campaign is helping to bring that about.

My only quibble is with Team Obama’s parsing of the allegation. The formulation David Plouffe gave the Times last week went as follows: “Whether it’s tax policy, whether it’s his approach to abortion, gay rights, immigration, he’s the most conservative nominee that they’ve had going back to Goldwater.” I’d tweak this slightly (not that anyone asked for my advice) and say, “Whether it’s tax policy … abortion, gay rights, immigration, he’s *running as* the most conservative nominee that they’ve had going back to Goldwater.” I don’t think many people look at Mitt Romney and see an authentic, fire-breathing conservative. But I do think they’ll believe he’s been willing to act like one to appease his party. And that the appeasement won’t abruptly end on Election Day.

On top of which, phrasing it this way lets you use both the “too conservative” argument and the “soulless” argument in a way that’s perfectly coherent, so you don’t really have to choose. 


  1. Mitt Romney campaigned for Governor of Massachusetts saying, among other things, that he was a stronger advocate for gay rights than Ted Kennedy. When the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, that same Romney resurrected a SLAVERY-ERA law to prevent same-sex couples from outside Massachusetts from coming to Massachusetts and getting married.

    He should scare the heck out of anyone.

  2. It took me a bit to figure out, but this post and others in this vein from elsewhere helped me out.

    Romney is Bernhard von Bulow!

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