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.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.