As unconvincing as it is, he has to make this attack the cornerstone of his anti-Romney strategy, no? If he goes the other way and attacks Romney for being a squish without any principles, some centrists and independents may read that as “moderate pragmatist” and come to appreciate Mitt for it. The One’s best bet, ludicrous though it may be, is to roll out the tried and true “wingnut extremist” meme and hope that sheer repetition blunts perceptions of Romney as a sensible middle-grounder. The two parties tend to rely on these evergreen narratives about each other for a reason, after all. Obama was always going to take heat for being a cocooned liberal elitist because that message is helpful to the GOP in attracting working-class voters. John Kerry got it too, as did fellow Massachusetts liberal Mike Dukakis. Clinton was immune to it despite his Ivy League pedigree because of his folksy southern charm, but then there were enough other lines of attack on him that elitism wasn’t really required. (Hillary bore the elitist label for years but finally shed it — to some extent — by running as the blue-collar alternative to O in 2008). Point being, these labels are baked in the electoral cake. If Huntsman had been the nominee, he too would have been a radical-right Rethuglican eager to take the country back to the 14th century.
Based on his three speeches yesterday as well as others he has recently made–particularly the one last week before the American Society of News Editors–Obama’s strategy seems to be this: I’m going to persuade the American people to think that you, Gov. Romney, are the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater, an extremist extraordinaire both on the economy and foreign policy. One who lost in the biggest landslide in American history in 1964…
To drive home the point, Obama again resorted to a meme that has already become familiar: he invoked other GOP presidents going all the way back to Lincoln in arguing that today’s Republicans are ideological extremists caught up in failed ideas. Pushing for social equity and investing in the nation’s future “is not historically a Democratic or Republican idea,” Obama said at another event in Hollywood. “It was Republican Teddy Roosevelt who called for a progressive income tax. Dwight Eisenhower, Republican, built the Interstate Highway System. It was, with the help of Republicans in Congress, FDR who gave millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, a chance to get ahead through the GI Bill. Abraham Lincoln, first Republican President, helped to bind this country together through the Transcontinental Railroad, started the land-grant colleges, National Academy of Sciences. This is not just a Democratic idea.”
Obvious question, then: Aren’t we also going to see some Democratic messaging this year about Romney being a “perfectly lubricated weathervane” who’ll tell voters anything they want to hear? And if so, isn’t that … hopelessly contradicted by the “Romney is the secret love child of Barry Goldwater and Hitler” attack? The answer to the first question is surely yes, but I’m not so sure about the second. Lefty Michael Tomasky:
Why assume that [Romney’s] old moderate positions were the real ones and the new conservative ones are fake? Because he took the others first? So what? He simply said what he needed to say to win then, and he’s saying what he thinks he needs to say to win now. And here and there, we learn new things about those bygone days. Over the weekend, the Times reported that Romney and Bibi Netanyahu have been close buddies, almost soulmates, for 35 years. I don’t think he paraded that one around much while running against Ted Kennedy. So maybe he was lying then.
I always ask people this question: There was talk, after the Salt Lake Olympics from which he emerged a local hero, that he might run for office in Utah. He decided against it because he had lived in Massachusetts for a quarter-century and saw a clearer path there. So suppose he had run in Utah. Think he’d have been proabortion rights there, or passed a big health-care law? Obviously not. He’d have been whatever he had to be.
And this is my theory of Romney: He’s not conservative, but he’s not moderate either. Why people assume he must be one or the other is another puzzle, because there is a third choice, which is the correct one: none of the above. He’s everything, he’s nothing; he’s whatever he needs to be.
The conservative fear is that, because Romney’s true beliefs are inscrutable, he’ll prove to be much more moderate in office than advertised. Democrats will turn that logic on its head for centrists: It’s because he’s inscrutable that he might end up governing further to the right than anyone expects. In fact, you don’t even need to believe that Mitt’s secretly conservative to believe that. If you think he’s apt to govern in whichever way maximizes his chances at reelection, then arguably he’ll be more conservative in office than he’d like to be simply for fear of a revolt among the base and subsequent primary challenge.
But maybe that’s overthinking it. If you’re a campaign strategist eager to attract a low-information swing voter, you’re not expecting them to pay close attention and notice that your “Romney’s a radical” and “Romney’s an opportunist squish” messages are mutually exclusive. All you want to do is create a sense for them that Romney’s kind of sinister and not to be trusted. Both of those messages further that goal, contradictory though they are. Do what you’ve got to do to drive his favorables down — and they’re already further down than most recent GOP nominees’ numbers were at the start of the general election campaign — and hope for the best. It’s kitchen sink time.