Dems’ payroll plan picks up Romney’s support

As part of his overly-cautious, don’t-upset-any-constituencies style, Mitt Romney has balked at taking a position on all kinds of contentious issues. Near the top of the list is the Democratic plan to extend the payroll tax in 2012.

Romney’s vacillation is almost understandable. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to endorse a tax increase. On the other, he doesn’t want to endorse part of President Obama’s economic agenda. Romney ended up dancing around the issue for months — reinforcing concerns about his inability to hold any convictions at all — before finally dismissing the White House’s proposal. “I don’t like temporary little Band-Aids,” he said at a debate in October.

Yesterday, the former governor decided he’s better off flip-flopping than endorsing a middle-class tax hike.

On Monday, Mitt Romney embraced one of President Obama’s signature proposals — another one-year extension of a cut in payroll taxes, after just weeks ago deriding the idea as “little Band-Aids” that offered only a temporary fix.

“I would like to see the payroll tax cut extended just because I know that working families are really feeling the pinch right now — middle-class Americans are having a hard time,” Mr. Romney said Monday on Michael Medved’s conservative radio talk show.

Hmm. So, let’s see. First, Romney sort of endorsed the payroll tax break. Then he dismissed it. Then his campaign no longer wanted to talk about. Then he announced his support for it.

Romney must realize that there’s a perception — based on voluminous evidence — that he’s a cowardly, unprincipled hack with no core beliefs who’ll shift with the political winds. And yet, the Republican presidential hopeful keeps offering proof that the criticisms are accurate.

As for the larger context, it’s worth noting that Romney joins Newt Gingrich in supporting Obama’s proposed extension of the tax break. This leaves us with an important realization: congressional Republicans balking at the tax cut are now even further to the right than both of their own party’s leading presidential candidates.

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Steve Benen

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.