Some political observers have set up observation sites and calibrated their instruments to detect whether or when Mitt Romney’s campaign will execute its “Etch-a-Sketch Moment:” its long-awaited shift to a “general election message” that is not contaminated by the radical issue positions and toxic themes of the GOP nomination contest.

The argument in my latest TNR column is that it’s already happened. A lot of people have missed it, because it has not involved any modifications of his issue positions, or any “shift to the center,” or any disrespecting of the conservative “base.” It’s no more or less than the Romney campaign’s extraordinary narrowing of focus to the claim that the election is “about” Obama’s economic performance. So Mitt hasn’t abandoned the right-wing policy commitments and social-issues extremism he was forced into during the primary season (and for that matter, the last presidential cycle). He’s just not going to talk about them unless he’s compelled to by restive conservatives or the Obama campaign.

Hard-core conservatives may let him get away with this micro platform so long as it looks like he’s at least an even bet to win. But like John McCain in 2008, if Mitt’s in trouble come September or October, he’ll face more and more open pressure to bring The Crazy out of the closet to “energize the base” and bring the horrifying secular-socialism of Barack Obama to the attention of swing voters. And we can only assume the Obama campaign will be working to ensure that those same voters (not to mention his own party’s “base”) will be regularly informed of all the many indications that a President Romney would oversee one of the most thorough-going right-wing administrations in living memory.

It would be nice, of course, if the MSM would take notice of how Romney is trying to label any discussion of matters that go beyond “the economic referendum” as “distractions,” when he’s actually trying to distract everyone from his own platform. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.