THE STUMP APRIL 23, 2012
So, according to the new CW, Team Obama is no longer portraying Mitt Romney as a convictionless panderer but as a Goldwater-esque extremist instead. As I noted in my own take on this question, that’s clearly the way to go here—Bill Clinton’s success with the strategy in 1996 speaks for itself. But I’d submit an added selling point that the coverage has so far ignored.
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.
Update: My former colleague Chris Orr tweets that "running as" hints too strongly that Romney would reverse course again and govern as a moderate. In that case, I'd go with something like "he's turned himself into the most conservative..." But, really, I'm happy to leave the precise wording to the pros. The point is just that the unadorned "most conservative since Goldwater" may not pass a smell test for a lot of voters.
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