"Wow, here's old Moderate Mitt. Where ya been, boy?"
So said former President Bill Clinton this week at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, capturing Mitt Romney's almost overnight transformation from a self-avowed "severe conservative" to a moderate on issues ranging from health care to financial reform. Moderate Mitt reemerged prominently for the first time at the presidential debate last week, catching President Obama off guard, and Romney is running with it, going so far as to tell The Des Moines Register this week that limiting abortions would not be a part of his presidential agenda. (His campaign later backtracked.) Romney's makeover seems to be mostly about image — by and large, his policies still technically remain the same — compelling the Obama campaign to ditch its strategy of painting him as a conservative bogeyman, and instead as a man willing to say whatever is politically expedient.
Will Obama's strategy work? Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's campaign strategy, thinks not. "Alleging that Mr. Romney is a serial deceiver... is a hard sell," he writes in The Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Romney came across last week as practical and thoughtful, authentic and a straight shooter."
However, the number of times that Romney has shifted, only for his campaign to "clarify" his true position later on, has grown at a rapid rate. The Obama campaign has "ample material to work with," says Edward-Isaac Dovere at Politico:
First, there was Romney’s tax plan. He explained at the debate that the deduction he favored ranged from “make up a number” to following “Bowles-Simpson as a model and take deduction by deduction and make differences that way.” The day before, he’d suggested capping deductions at $17,000 — a proposal that would hit the wealthy. That apparently wasn’t the plan either, according to aides who rushed to point out that this would go along with a movable personal exemption.
Then there was Romney’s defense of his health plan. He argued that he would cover pre-existing conditions and let people younger than 26 stay on their parents’ insurance — ideas that his senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom immediately shot down in the post-debate spin room, explaining that the plan would actually leave the market-shaping decision up to the states…
He took to the microphone himself for a quickly convened press conference to explain that he stood by his comments about the 47 percent, leaving staff and surrogates to soften and couch his point — until the night after the debate, when he took it all back and said he was wrong.
In the end, it all depends on how the electorate responds. "Will they consider [Romney's] flexibility disturbing evidence that he lacks principles, or a reassuring signal that he would not govern as an ideologue?" says Karen Tumulty at The Washington Post. Clearly, the Obama campaign is hoping that independent voters will be uncertain enough about Romney to cast a vote for Obama.