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.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:
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.
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.Kevin Drum, in assent, adds some voting bloc anthropology:
“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.”
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?