Political Animal


April 23, 2012 4:27 PM The Trap

By Ed Kilgore

Speaking of questionable MSM reporting on political strategy, there seems to be a lot of confusion over the alleged “shift” in Obama messaging about Mitt Romney from “a flip-flopper with no core” to “severely conservative.” Today there’s a long Glenn Thrush/Jonathan Martin piece at Politico that reads like the co-authors were having an argument and just lashed it all together. One minute it seems the Obama campaign junked the “no core” attacks on the advice of Bill Clinton and pollster Benenson; then it appears they are pursuing the two themes simultaneously; and then that there is internal discord on the messaging.

The sources for the “internal discord” interpretation are not exactly unimpeachable: John Weaver, who’s fresh from conducting the train wreck that was Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign, but has apparently retained his “genius strategist” rep in some circles; and Romney’s own spokesperson Andrea Saul, who says the supposed conflict is a sign of “a White House in search of a reason for reelection.”

I don’t see a problem here. Of course the Obama camp emphasized the “no core” argument during the primaries, since it reinforced conservative doubts about Romney and also painted him as someone so character-less that he’d do or say whatever was necessary to win the nomination. Now that Mitt’s spent months and months pandering to conservative activists and blasting his opponents for ideological heresies real and imagined, it’s perfectly logical to point out how he’s harnessed himself to a political movement that’s partying like it’s 1964. But the “no core” attack line must be recalled now and then to turn on bright flashing lights whenever Romney tries to reposition himself, which he really does need to do lest he come across as Paul Ryan with a lot less personality.

Is it really confusing or risky to depict Romney as an empty suit in the thrall of radicals? Weaver says something I’ve also heard from anxious Democrats who fear that calling Romney a flip-flopper could make him more attractive to swing voters: “Being a flip-flopper might actually help Romney. It shows he’s not an unreasonable person.”

Really? People who don’t like the ideology Romney has been incessantly peddling for the last two presidential cycles are going to vote for him because they believe he’s an incorrigible liar?

I don’t think so. Mitt has built a trap for himself throughout his public career, and Team Obama would be foolish not to bait it and spring it. Persuadable voters don’t much like flip-floppers and don’t much like “severly conservative” ideologues, either. And they really don’t like pols without the character to maintain a reasonably consistent point of view even as they ingratiate themselves to people who are unreasonably enslaved to an extremist ideology against which every decision made by Romney every single day of his presidency would be policed relentlessly and viciously.

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.


  • T2 on April 23, 2012 4:36 PM:

    “Being a flip-flopper might actually help Romney. It shows he’s not an unreasonable person.” this is, without a doubt, on of the most ridiculous statements I've ever heard. I can't believe this Weaver guy can get a job with baloney like this, even with Politico.
    Here's what I'd advise Obama's team.......Get an Etch-A-Sketch and put it on Romney's head on every political ad. Then just repeatedly play tapes of Romney's flip-flops. There's never been a more "I was for it before I was against it" guy.

  • Crissa on April 23, 2012 4:37 PM:

    Ed, look at surveys of independents who are leaning to Romney. They choose him because they think he will flip flop on their secondary issues like equal rights, gay rights, etc.

    It doesn't have to be logic you follow to be some someone else does.

  • Joe Friday on April 23, 2012 4:39 PM:

    "Is it really confusing or risky to depict Romney as an empty suit in the thrall of radicals?"

    Considering who in the MSM you're addressing, YES !

  • liam foote on April 23, 2012 4:47 PM:

    This reminds me of a passage about messaging and attack capabilities in Sen. Franken's book, "Lies ..." when he described Dems as essentiallyl a pack of mongrels chasing their own tails and sniffing one another's butts, while the GOP ran a puppy mill that cranked out one pit bull after another, all trained to go for the juglar or the balls.

  • stevio on April 23, 2012 4:53 PM:

    What's wrong with the idea of a meld of both?

    A flip-flopping right wing radical who moved so far right he is now touching left winggers and he did it by flipping his positions on every topic. It paints a much more devious panderer...

  • Hedda Peraz on April 23, 2012 5:06 PM:

    Mitt wants to be president. Severely!
    But, that is not a reason to vote for him.
    Nor is blind hatred of The Other.

  • RP on April 23, 2012 5:20 PM:

    There's no inconsistency. Romney has no core beliefs other than the fact that he wants to be president, so he's willing to say or do anything to achieve his goal. As a result, he used to be a moderate republican so he could get elected in Mass., and now he's a "severe" conservative so he can become president. He's not going to tack back to the center once elected because he has no center to tack back to. There's no there there. He'll just do whatever his conservative allies tell him to do.

  • Raoul on April 23, 2012 6:00 PM:

    You have to consider that Politico wants to launch narratives that undermine Obama. So of course they're gonna pick at things they perceive as a weakness in the message machine.

    So much of what's going on now that Santorum has slunk away is predicated on building the horse race and the close election story. If Omaba is popular and heads towards winning easily, people will watch sports or the Home Shopping Network and not read Pravda on the Potomac.

  • Col Bat Guano on April 23, 2012 6:03 PM:

    This keeps coming up as if it's a problem for the Obama campaign. Their strategy is simple: Portray Romney as a hard-core rightwinger by highlighting the things he's said over the past 8 years. If he denies it, he looks feckless and willing to say or do anything to get elected. If he admits it then he alienates independants and moderates.

  • FlipYrWhig on April 23, 2012 6:28 PM:

    Oddly enough, I don't remember the punditocracy trying to finesse all the wonderful benefits of candidates being considered flip-floppers when it was John Kerry being accused, and for much less reason, and on vastly fewer issues.

  • smartalek on April 24, 2012 12:38 AM:

    Hypocrisy, thy name is Publican.
    How nice of them to so generously point out what Team Obama is doing wrong.
    I'm sure they want only to be helpful.
    As Flip reminds us, the Publicans and their corporate-mass-media mouthpieces had zero problem using the mutually-exclusive charges that Kerry was simultaneously a ginormous flip-flopper, AND the "most liberal Senator of all" (right up til the moment that Hillary was "the most liberal of all," which in turn lasted up til it was revealed that it wad actually Obama who was...).
    And that horrifically "weak" messaging -- must really have worked out poorly for W, right?
    They really do think Americans are infinitely stupid and gullible.

  • smartalek on April 24, 2012 12:42 AM:

    Then again, with the typical Publican voter, I guess they have plenty of reasons to believe so.
    Let's hope they're seriously wrong about the rest of us -- especially those "swing" voters.