The Trap

Speaking of questionable MSM reporting on political strategy, there seems to be a lot of confusion over the alleged “shift” in Obama messaging about Mitt Romney from “a flip-flopper with no core” to “severely conservative.” Today there’s a long Glenn Thrush/Jonathan Martin piece at Politico that reads like the co-authors were having an argument and just lashed it all together. One minute it seems the Obama campaign junked the “no core” attacks on the advice of Bill Clinton and pollster Benenson; then it appears they are pursuing the two themes simultaneously; and then that there is internal discord on the messaging.

The sources for the “internal discord” interpretation are not exactly unimpeachable: John Weaver, who’s fresh from conducting the train wreck that was Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign, but has apparently retained his “genius strategist” rep in some circles; and Romney’s own spokesperson Andrea Saul, who says the supposed conflict is a sign of “a White House in search of a reason for reelection.”

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 a 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.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.