Romney, feeling the heat, makes time for the right

Sen. Jim DeMint (R), arguably the Senate’s most right-wing member, recently announced he will host a Labor Day event in his native South Carolina for all the leading Republican presidential candidates. It’s effectively a cattle call with one of Congress’ most influential far-right powerbrokers. Mitt Romney, whom DeMint endorsed in 2008, declined the invitation.

Around the same time, the Tea Party Express said it hoped Romney would participate in an event in New Hampshire, also on Labor Day. Romney remained uncommitted.

But all of a sudden, there are four national polls showing the former Massachusetts governor has ceded the frontrunner slot to Rick Perry, and wouldn’t you know it, Romney’s schedule has suddenly become far more flexible.

On Tuesday, Romney’s campaign announced that he would headline a tea party event in New Hampshire on Labor Day. Hours later, the campaign moved that event to Sunday in a different location and announced that he would attend a Labor Day forum in South Carolina hosted by tea party original Sen. Jim DeMint, an invitation Romney had previously turned down.

Perry is a favorite of the tea party, and those insurgent voters see Romney as a more establishment candidate.

The Romney campaign denied he decided to attend the DeMint event because of Perry’s strong poll numbers.

Perish the thought. This is just an example of a GOP presidential candidate who didn’t have time for his party’s right-wing base, and then suddenly changing his mind when the polls turned against him. It’s all just a remarkable coincidence that Romney’s availability happened to loosen up immediately after several polls showed he’s no longer the frontrunner.

In the bigger picture, it’s likely Romney hoped to keep his distance from folks like DeMint and the Tea Party Express as part of a general election strategy — he’s the electable mainstream candidate, not that guy pandering to extremists. And before Rick Perry got in the race, the strategy seemed plausible.

But that phase of the race is over. Now, “For some undefined but Texas governor-sized-and-shaped reason, Mitt Romney is suddenly very interested in attending tea party events.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, whether the outreach will make any difference. Romney is, after all, a former pro-choice governor who supported gay rights, gun control, immigration reform, and combating climate change, who distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, and helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act.

Romney looks rather weak crawling to the far-right base for support. He may look even weaker if they reject him.