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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Stalking the Elusive “Real Romney”

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on April 24, 2012.

There’s a bit of a dispute going on in Democratic pundit circles about how best to ‘frame’ the ‘real Romney’ in campaign messaging. Would he be most accurately — and effectively — portrayed as a flip-flopping flibbertigibbet or a slickster wingnut?
The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber comes down on the side of characterizing the GOP nominee-in-waiting as “a Goldwater-esque extremist,” tempered by “an added selling point that the coverage has so far ignored.” As Scheiber says,

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.

Describing Romney as a “vulture capitalist who lacks a human core but has embraced a conservative agenda to lead his fellow Republicans and plutocrats to victory in November,” Alec MacGillis’s take, also at TNR, “A False Choice For Obama’s Anti-Romney Message,” offers a melding of the two views:

I also see the two frames as linked and not as inconsistent as some are making them out to be, but in a slightly different way–as fully symbiotic arguments that each would not work all that well entirely on their own, that are stronger if yoked together….Yoking the two frames together works even better when they are combined with the third frame at Obama’s disposal: Romney as the plutocrat who (after a blessed start in life) made his millions slicing and dicing companies, regardless of the human collateral, and who now benefits from a very low tax rate on his fortune. This framing makes each of the other two more persuasive. It buttresses the notion of Romney as one without a core–he’ll do whatever it takes to get on top. And it explains Romney’s current conservatism, making it seem more than just sheer opportunism at least when it comes to taxes and the economy–of course he’s embracing the Ryan plan: It lowers rates for people like himself, even to the point of saving his own sons millions in estate taxes!

Ed Kilgore also envisions a synthesis of the two views at WaMo’s ‘Political Animal,’, albeit angled differently:

I don’t see a problem here. Of course the Obama camp emphasized the “no core” argument during the primaries, since it reinforced conservative doubts about Romney and also painted him as someone so character-less that he’d do or say whatever was necessary to win the nomination. Now that Mitt’s spent months and months pandering to conservative activists and blasting his opponents for ideological heresies real and imagined, it’s perfectly logical to point out how he’s harnessed himself to a political movement that’s partying like it’s 1964. But the “no core” attack line must be recalled now and then to turn on bright flashing lights whenever Romney tries to reposition himself, which he really does need to do lest he come across as Paul Ryan with a lot less personality.
Is it really confusing or risky to depict Romney as an empty suit in the thrall of radicals? Weaver says something I’ve also heard from anxious Democrats who fear that calling Romney is flip-flopper could make him more attractive to swing voters: “Being a flip-flopper might actually help Romney. It shows he’s not an unreasonable person.”
Really? People who don’t like the ideology Romney has been incessantly peddling for the last two presidential cycles are going to vote for him because they believe he’s an incorrigible liar?
I don’t think so. Mitt has built a trap for himself throughout his public career, and Team Obama would be foolish not to bait it and spring it. Persuadable voters don’t much like flip-floppers and don’t much like “severly conservative” ideologues, either. And they really don’t like pols without the character to maintain a reasonably consistent point of view even as they ingratiate themselves to people who are unreasonably enslaved to an extremist ideology against which every decision made by Romney every single day of his presidency would be policed relentlessly and viciously.

Put another way, we are now talking about a flip-flopper who no longer has the wiggle-room to tack back towards sanity, much less moderation. That’s not a problem for the Obama campaign; It’s an embarrassment of messaging riches.

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