The latest meme making the Beltway rounds at the urging of Mitt Romney’s staff is that their candidate has really pulled a fast one on the “conservative base” of his party: he’s a “moderate” (you know, like Bill Clinton) who’s figured out he can keep the wingnuts happy just by being a Breitbartian badass towards Obama. Give’ em Solyndra photo ops, the meme suggests, and they won’t make Romney endorse the Gold Standard or a Personhood Amendment. McKay Coppins wrote up the meme today for Buzzfeed:

The conventional wisdom of the chattering class has been that Romney is captive to the Republican Party’s conservative base, desperate and anxious to maintain their tepid support. But his new appeal to the right marks a recognition that he can court conservatives without, in any traditional sense, “tacking right.” His aggressive tactics stand in for the sort of policy compromises that could damage him in November; better, his advisers argue, to court conservatives with a press conference shouting match than with a high-profile fight over abortion or gay marriage. What’s more, they say, the media obsession with Romney “pandering” to the right represents a misunderstanding of conservatives, who can live with Romney’s moderate record – as long as he’s a fighting moderate.

So the idea here is that every time Romney pleases the crazy people by echoing one of their favorite attack lines on Obama, or simply looks the other way when they pursue craziness (e.g., Trump’s neo-birtherism), it’s a sign Mitt is actually being faithful to his “moderate” course, giving the Right bread and circuses while intending to offer swing voters–and America–that fine “moderate” governance.

If anyone buys this meme, then they’re falling for a stunt a lot more transparent than the base-tending hijinks that have supposedly fooled the right-wing rubes.

It should be enough for anyone that Romney has endorsed two large and violently immoderate measures: the Ryan budget, and Jim DeMint’s Cut, Cap and Balance Pledge, those twin substantive litmus tests for a candidate’s commitment to a long-term agenda focused on a radically reduced government at all levels supported by a more regressive tax system. He’s also promised to try to make abortion and same-sex marriage illegal through federal policy if possible and judicial appointments if necessary; there is nothing “moderate” about reversing 40 years of legalized abortion. And don’t get me started on Romney’s foreign policy views, which seem to combine the worst features of Dick Cheney and John Bolton.

Are there right-wing policy positions too extreme for Romney to embrace unless he has to? Of course; there always are and always will be; we’re living in a moment of movement conservative triumphalism so powerful that no one is safe of the charge of being insufficiently pure. That doesn’t make Mitt some sort of safe “centrist” alternative to Obama who’s managed to outmanuever a weak field and trick the Right into accepting his nomination, and is now tricking hard-core conservatives again by giving them the sizzle of the psychotic campaign they crave instead of the steak.

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.