Choosing among the Romney frames

Mitt Romney’s opponents — in both parties — are presumably investing some time right about now in choosing how best to define the former governor. I’ve been working under the assumption that there are two overarching frames, but Alec MacGillis suggests I’m missing one.

The first is that Romney, after several ideological transformations, is a far-right ideologue. If elected, he’ll take the country backwards, pursuing a Bush-on-steroids kind of agenda.

The second is that Romney is an unprincipled, cowardly flip-flopper, who voters simply cannot trust. He’s so lacking in a fundamental integrity, Romney will say anything to anyone to advance his ambitions, depending on how the winds are blowing at the time.

And the third? Alec makes the case:

[T]his debate is overlooking the other potential frame for attacking Romney, as a plutocrat who made a quarter-billion or so in a business known for cold-hearted layoffs, who is showing no compunction about allying himself with the likes of Steve Schwarzman, and who personally benefits from a skewed tax system that, by some estimates, has his own millions taxed at no more than 15 percent. Even the conservative Union Leader of New Hampshire has noted that this attack packs punch in an era of the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. It would not be hard to imagine what the attacks would look like — Ted Kennedy’s team drew them up 17 years ago.

The plutocrat attack would not necessarily be in conceptual conflict with portraying Romney as a flip-flopper. But choices would still have to be made about which message to prioritize, which to use when and where. Presumably, the “lacking a core” frame is more potent now, as the Democrats seek to sow doubts about Romney among GOP voters. But that frame could become less productive during the general election, if, despite what Benen persuasively argues, it serves to reassure some independent voters that Romney will flip back to moderation in the White House. At that point, the plutocratic message could emerge as the more powerful one, especially in beleaguered battlegrounds like Ohio.

Schwarzman, by the way, is the chairman of the world’s largest private-equity firm, Blackstone Group, who recently compared the administration’s efforts to raise taxes on the income of private-equity firms such as his to “when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” Schwarzman will host a fundraiser for Romney at his Park Avenue apartment next month, and encourage other Wall Street elites to rally behind Romney’s candidacy.

When Joe McQuaid, the publisher of the Union Leader, said Romney “sort of represents the 1%,” this is partly what he was talking about. Indeed, Jon Huntsman said the other day that Romney is “in the hip pocket of Wall Street,” and Romney doesn’t seem to mind proving him right.

The problem for Romney’s opponents, though, is picking the right frame from the choices. Pushing more than one theme would muddle the message and dilute its potency. Which of the three would you choose?