The illusory contradiction of the DNC message

In response to the Democratic National Committee’s new “Mitt v. Mitt” campaign, David Frum generated some good discussion this morning with an interesting observation:

“How does DNC hope to sell idea BOTH that Romney believes in nothing AND that he’s an extreme right-winger?”

If this seems at all familiar, there’s a good reason — Dems were raising the exact same observation seven years ago. At the time, the RNC and the Bush/Cheney team hoped to sell the idea that John Kerry is on the both sides of every issue and John Kerry takes the far-left side of every issue.

Obviously, there was a contradiction, but it didn’t make much of a difference. The larger theme — voters shouldn’t trust Kerry — came through loud and clear.

That said, the Democratic message about Romney — the political world’s other “French-speaking elitist from Massachusetts” — strikes me as just a little different, and not at all contradictory. In this case, Dems really aren’t telling voters that Romney is “an extreme right-winger”; rather, they’re telling voters that Romney is taking extreme right-wing positions because he’s a craven, shallow politician who’ll say anything to get elected. The right-wing facade is just a persona, which is different from previous versions of Romney, and may well be different from future versions of Romney.

Frum may believe that Democrats will present Romney to voters as a loon who appeals to the Republicans’ unhinged base, but I don’t think that’ll be the Dems’ message at all.

Indeed, the focus on flip-flops is really just part of a far more important theme: trust, or in this case, the lack thereof. It’s about establishing a reputation for Romney, defining him by his weakness: the Republican candidate is a coward who’s afraid to lead, afraid to tell the truth, afraid of core principles, and afraid to be consistent. The point isn’t to make Romney out to be an extremist; the point is to make Romney out to be someone who is so lacking in a fundamental integrity, he’ll say anything to anyone to advance his ambitions, depending on how the winds are blowing at the time.