Opinion Brief

Mitt Romney's flip-flopping: The key to a bipartisan D.C.?

The Obama campaign says the GOP candidate lacks core convictions. But that may be Romney's biggest asset, says David Brooks at The New York Times

In the world of politics, being branded a brazen flip-flopper can be a death sentence. (See: Kerry, John.) Since Mitt Romney's recent emergence as a more moderate candidate — as opposed to the "severely conservative" posture he adopted for the GOP primaries — President Obama has been hammering him for being two-faced. And the Obama campaign received fresh ammunition today when a prominent Romney surrogate, former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, told a group of voters in the all-important swing state of Ohio that Roe v. Wade would not be overturned under a Romney administration. (Romney has previously said he would like to see the landmark decision reversed.) However, David Brooks at The New York Times says Romney's slipperiness on the issues may be precisely what a hyper-partisan Congress needs. Would Romney's flip-flopping make him a better president?

Yes. Flip-flopping leads to bipartisanship: Obama's second-term agenda would be instantly stalled by Republican House members who "still have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right," says Brooks. Romney, likely facing a Democratic Senate, would retain "the core lesson of this campaign: Conservatism loses; moderation wins." Romney's "shape-shifting nature would induce him to govern as a center-right moderate," and conservative members of the GOP would go along because "they wouldn't want to destroy a Republican president." As a result, if Romney wins, the country is "more likely to get bipartisan reform." "The upside of opportunism"

But no one knows what Romney will do: It's pretty sad when the best case you can make for your candidate is that "his campaign is largely bullshit," says Matthew Yglesias at Slate. The problem with Brooks' argument, of course, is that no one has any idea which course Romney will actually pursue. "We should always take seriously the possibility that he'll actually govern the way he says he wants to govern," which could result in "stringent tax and spending cuts" that would simultaneously stall the recovery and exacerbate the deficit. "Mitt Romney — the candidate who you hope is lying"

And the GOP may not support Moderate Mitt: "House Republicans wouldn't stand for it" if Romney governed as a moderate, says Dylan Byers at Politico. "And neither would Senate Republicans." Brooks' "lukewarm endorsement" rests on a fundamental misreading of the nature of the current GOP. "David Brooks' long, hard road to Romney"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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