Political Animal


April 11, 2012 11:45 AM Pinning Mitt to the Right-Wing Mat

By Ed Kilgore

One of the key strategic decisions facing the Obama campaign now that Mitt Romney has completely nailed down the GOP nomination is whether to go after him as too conservative for the country, or as a slippery flip-flopper who might do anything. The former is a tried-and-true tactic that exploits the unusual ideological militancy afflicting the GOP this year and takes advantage of Romney’s many efforts to placate “true conservatives.” The latter approach has the advantage of reinforcing conservative doubts about Romney—which are still fresh in everyone’s memory, of course—and also casting doubt on Mitt’s character, like the GOP’s “flip-flop” campaign against John Kerry in 2004.

The first sign from Team Obama squarely takes the “he’s too conservative” tack:

From the Obama campaign, CNN reports:

“Expect us to keep holding Romney accountable for the positions he committed to during the primary. There will be no Etch A Sketch opportunities this year,” Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said.

This is, of course, just a web video, and distribution of it can be targeted to people most likely to be offended by Romney’s pander-fest to the Right (including potential Obama-Biden donors). It by no means precludes different attack lines later, including the flip-flop charge. But it’s an interesting sign of the Obama campaign’s current thinking.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ron Byers on April 11, 2012 11:55 AM:

    He pandered to the wingnut base. Let him live with it.

  • BeanTooth on April 11, 2012 12:04 PM:

    This makes sense. The flip-flopper charge could actually work in Romney's favor and in a way is one his campaign will likely make himself. For Mitt, being a flip-flopper means he's not a radical, but actually a moderate forced to say crazy things because of the GOP base. But if the Obama campaign forces Romney to live by his right-wing incarnation, then he will have to won all the craziness from the GOP the last few years. Obama won't be pushing himself as The Decider like W, so the flip-flop charge isn't his polar opposite. But he will cast himself as the only grown-up in the room, the moderate problem-solver amidst the pack of lunatics and children. For this, Romney as movement conservative is a perfect foil.

  • TCinLA on April 11, 2012 12:07 PM:

    Romney has set himself up to be the best Republican punching bag ever. Hopefully after they punch him and he goes down, they'll keep kicking him. The Republican party needs serious destruction to the extent possible this year, not just defeat.

  • Jim Strain on April 11, 2012 12:10 PM:

    I worry that if they hit the "too conservative" meme too hard, the Romney-tepid GOP base might think, "Well, if Obama says he's too conservative, maybe Romney really is one of us after all."

  • Tomb on April 11, 2012 12:16 PM:

    I agree with the tactic as Romney will have to live up to his flip flop reputation to refute the attacks so it's a two-for-one strategy.

  • Tom Q on April 11, 2012 12:26 PM:

    I'd say by showing this video and prefacing it with "We won't let him etch-a-sketch", you're doing both: showing he took all the right-wing positions, and reminding you he'll be lying about it.

  • stormskies on April 11, 2012 12:27 PM:

    Seems to me that all's the Democrats and Obama needs to really do, beyond the obvious duplicity in everything buffoon Romney does and says, is to point out over and over the actual reality of his policies starting with the Ryan budget. If those policies are hammered home including the war on women of these Repiglicans Obama should have a pretty easy victory.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on April 11, 2012 12:27 PM:


  • Josh on April 11, 2012 12:27 PM:

    I agree with Tomb. If the Obama campaign can pin him down (as the far right seeks to do as well to ensure his bonafides and their support) in his conservative positions, then any change will just be answered: and here is Mr. Etch a Sketch. He has to choose to alienate women or choose to alienate his base. I call that between a rock and a hard place...

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on April 11, 2012 12:31 PM:

    Seriously, i don't get why people think, "Centrist conservative, but willing to say right-wing looney things he doesn't believe to pander to his right-wing looney party" is a helpful brand for Romney to cultivate. (Meanwhile, there's a right-wing looney Congress helpfully passing right-wing looney legislation to remind us of the stakes. Do you think the public really trusts Romney to act as a check just because he's a known flip-flopper?)

    Pin him with both. Make him clarify whether he really believes this stuff or was just waffling. He won't answer, so poison his image with both. People (non-27%ers) understand that politicians play the game, but they're not going to be comfortable with one for home playing the game means taking lunatic positions to placate the right.

    How in hell is it beneficial for him to say, "I really didn't believe all that crazy stuff?" I don't get it.

  • June on April 11, 2012 12:36 PM:

    Standing ovation for that ad - excellent!

  • BJ smith on April 11, 2012 12:37 PM:

    TC in LA & Tomb, you are exactly right,there is no way he can wiggle when he tries to talk back all the many statements made in past, let him defeat himself.

  • john mccutchen on April 11, 2012 12:44 PM:

    I've been using the slogan: "Every bit as extreme as the rest of them, just not as honest"

    I like to have my cake and it eat too

  • SecularAnimist on April 11, 2012 12:46 PM:

    I say, hold Romney accountable in the general election campaign for the right-wing extremist positions he has embraced during the primaries -- and Romney will take care of branding himself a flip-flopper.

  • howard on April 11, 2012 1:14 PM:

    the gop has never had a problem with using both: he/she is "too liberal" and a "flip flopper" is a very standard gop trope.

    so why shouldn't team obama use both?

  • cmdicely on April 11, 2012 2:31 PM:

    the gop has never had a problem with using both: he/she is "too liberal" and a "flip flopper" is a very standard gop trope.

    so why shouldn't team obama use both?

    Kilgore seems to fail to realize that Team Obama already is using both rather than choosing between them. They've already attacked both the far-right positions he's taken int he primary season and his campaigns overtly stated intent to flip-flop (or, "Etch-A-Sketch") between the primary and general election.

    Its pretty amazing that Kilgore mischaracterizes the current approach as focussing exclusively on Romney's extremism instead of his flip-flopping, since he even quotes the line in which LaBolt directly references the Romney campaign "Etch-A-Sketch" comment.

  • Robert Waldmann on April 11, 2012 2:54 PM:

    Why choose. I hate to recommend emulation of Karl Rove, but he did get the worst president in living memory reelected. They attacked Kerry as the most liberal senator and as a flip flopper. Note the "etch a sketch" in your quote. By accusing Romney of etch a sketching, the Obama campaign can keep him from etch a sketching. The line is that he is secretly such an ulta right wing plutophile that he has gotten used to lying about his views and has forgotten how to tell the truth. Hell I came clse enough to thinking thattat about Kerry (with ultra left Fondaphile) that I managed to vote for him without holding my nose.

    I don't suggest arguing that Romney got undeserved medals by lying, but aside from that, I think the Obama team has the winning playbook.

  • Col Bat Guano on April 11, 2012 3:41 PM:

    Gotta agree with a lot folks here that this is a two-fer strategy. Force Romney to either repudiate his right wing tack for the primaries and reinforce the flip flopper meme (also driving down base enthusiasm) or have him repeat them to shore up his base and expose him as no different than Gingrich or Santorum.

  • Doug on April 11, 2012 7:49 PM:

    Prior to the Republican convention, it might be best to concentrate on "He's too conservative". Force the Romneybot to acknowldge, continuously if possible, his "severe" conservatism. Let him try and re-boot, if he dares! And if nothing else, it will raise a lot of hopes from the more, let's call them enthusiastic, right-wingers. Let Romney disappoint THEM with a squishy, non-"severely" conservative platform with only eight weeks to go to the election!
    If a "severely" conservative platform IS adopted, then the Democrats can simply continue on their already established course. Of course, should a platform be adopted designed to gull as many independents as possible by lyin.., I mean, by the use of, say, Luntz-tested phrasing, Democrats can blast him for being both "too conservative" and serially mendacious.
    "Serially mandacious", isn't that "marvelously" apt?