Political Animal


June 01, 2012 10:22 AM Mitt the “Fighting Moderate”

By Ed Kilgore

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 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.


  • Anonymous on June 01, 2012 10:28 AM:

    "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."

    Well, it looks like (surprise!) EJ Dionne is a liberal rube:

    EJ Dionne ‏@EJDionne Smart theory on Romney's Trumpism: Fighting Obama on all fronts lets Romney appeal to the right without going right.

  • stormskies on June 01, 2012 10:33 AM:

    Buffoon Romney is the archetypal example of what happens when you make a Faustian Deal. He no longer has a soul. In it's place in nothing but a rancid abscess surrounded by money.

  • DAY on June 01, 2012 10:42 AM:

    Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local."
    Joe Biden says "All politics is personal."
    We need to remember both, as November approaches.

  • c u n d gulag on June 01, 2012 10:52 AM:

    Mitt doesn't have a core, so he really doesn't believe in anything.
    Except that HE, Mitt Romney, should be President.

    And a person who doesn't really believe in anything, will DO anything.

    That's what "The Banality of Evil" is also about.

  • boatboy_srq on June 01, 2012 10:54 AM:

    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.

    IOW, he's lying to the Reichwing just like he's lying to the moderates. Quelle surprise.

    Whatever happened to calling out this dishonesty as more proof that Romney will say anything to anyone because he really, REALLY wants to be President, because "it's his turn" and he's running for President, for Pete's sake?

    Captcha: intarda messengers. If this is the best the MSM can do on the subject, the messengers really are intarda. How does Captcha always know?

  • jlt on June 01, 2012 11:01 AM:

    R.Maddow nailed the liar on his solyndra and named his 3 solyndras in Mass.

    Moderate is a term for someone centered and thoughtful..not for a panderer and liar!

  • Another Steve on June 01, 2012 11:02 AM:

    Oh for Christ's sake.


    Yep, George W. Bush, moderate centrist moderate who'll govern as a moderate centrist and is just blowing kisses to the gullible right wing rubes. No different than Al Gore, really. Not a lick of difference between them, except that that Gore was a lying phoney.

    And that worked out great, didn't it?

    If the MSM buys this, and they probably will, you might as well start looking into immigration opportunities into your favorite more or less still sane English speaking democracy of your choice (I'm favoring Australia) because the slide into idiocracy has become irreversible.

  • biggerbox on June 01, 2012 11:06 AM:

    So, if I have this idea straight, Romney's camp wants us to believe he isn't really a right-wing tool, he's a lying scumbag who's just pretending to be a right-wing tool, but doesn't actually believe anything he says?

    And that is better how, exactly?

    (I swear, sometimes it feels like the people running the Romney campaign are from another planet.)

  • bleh on June 01, 2012 11:14 AM:

    Actually, I don't buy either story, and I think the truth is somewhere in between.

    Yes, Mitt has "endorsed" and "promised" all sorts of things, but who believes him? As observed above, and as his actions amply demonstrate, his core beliefs are few indeed, and they're mostly related to enriching himself and his close friends. THAT I think is about the only thing we could count on from a Romey presidency.

    How many other Republicans have thrown the rabid Right a ton of red meat only to do little more for them than nominate an occasional friendly judge (who is also -- even primarily -- a corporatist?) As coalition partners go, the Bible-bangers have got the short end of the stick more often than I can count.

    Romney as president would do what he felt like he had to in order to accomplish his goals. I expect his goals would be primarily, even exclusively, transferring wealth upward, which is the Prime Directive for almost all Republicans (except the mouth-breathers, who have trouble counting). All the rest of it -- strategy analysis, campaign promises -- is hot air.

  • Epicurus on June 01, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Oh, you're being too hard on Willard! He's just like an Etch-a-Sketch, see? We'll flip him over, shake him a few times and he'll be the ole moderate who ruled Massachusetts for one whole term. Please; pull the other one, it has bells on it. This man is the most fundamentally dishonest Republican candidate since Nixon, and that's saying a lot.

  • T2 on June 01, 2012 11:33 AM:

    Romney's problem here is that he isn't a tough guy...he does his "fighting" at a distance. I watched McCain lie right to his face and all he did was smile a weak smile. If he has to go face to face with someone, his "fighting" well devolve into whining. Obama ignores this at his own peril. This is not the time to take the "high road"...much too much is at stake. Of course he'll be branded a Scary Black Man by the Media, but at this point, he may need to be one.

  • rea on June 01, 2012 11:38 AM:

    "Vote Romney--Not Conservative, Just a Lying Asshole"

  • LJL on June 01, 2012 1:09 PM:

    Every once in a while the late, unlamented Reichskanzler wore a natty double breasted suit and tie. I imagine that made him a secret moderate too.

  • bushworstpresidentever on June 01, 2012 1:37 PM:

    Whether Willard is a "moderate" or not is irrelevant. As Grover Norquist has pointed out, all the right wing wants out of Romney is a warm right hand to sign whatever idiocy a Republican Congress sends him. Does anyone think that Willard would hesitate for even a millisecond before signing every right wing wet dream passed by a Republican Congress?

  • g on June 01, 2012 2:14 PM:

    My misgivings about Obama are not strong enough to motivate me to vote for a guy based on the theory he's actually just faking being a right wing nutcase in order to pander to his base, and if elected, can be counted on to defy those who bankrolled him in order to govern just a little bit to the right of Obama.

    Anyone who thinks this scenario has any basis in reality is barking mad.

  • jjm on June 01, 2012 2:36 PM:

    Romney is a sniveling whiner who pretends that he's been 'heckled' by Obama supporters (WHEN, exactly? I've never heard a single report of this). So he sends his aides out to drown out little old David Axelrod.

    So, as T2 above says, "Romney's problem here is that he isn't a tough guy...he does his "fighting" at a distance" -- with this caveat: he is perfectly happy to gin up brownshirt or Brooks Brothers people who outshout those speaking on behalf of Obama. (Too chicken even to do it TO Obama).

    The Italian Fascists used a tactic called "Noisism" to get their political way. The right wing here is no different, with its ever more naked threats of violence and open encouragement of its soft-minded followers to resort to violence.

    To me, Romney's moderate/nice guy act resembles nothing so much as Ted Bundy's.

    And yes, C U N D Gulag: I've mentioned it here before: Romney is the epitome of Arendt's "banality of evil."

  • tcinaz on June 01, 2012 3:07 PM:

    AnotherSteve appears to be on the right track to me. The Republican party is still what it ever was despite the noise from the Tea Party. They are after all just the Bush voters who were so embarrassed by the worst president in American history that they pretended to change who they were only to become a more strident version of the same thing. Their calls for purity are just their way of pretending the fault of Bush's failures wasn't theirs for electing him twice, but his for failing to do exactly what they wanted. Yet what he did is exactly what the wanted: war to prove exceptionality, deregulation to expand markets, tax reductions despite consequences, diminished rights of all not part of their club. That it failed is of course the problem, but just as changing their name gives them an aura of something new, so also do they believe that more of Bush's same will result in a rebirth of efficacy for those failed policies. The only politician who could possibly represent this self-deluded political force is a cipher who has, like them, no political core willing, and is to believe that beating one's heads against the brick wall of established fact is not a sign of insanity but of political courage. Enter Mitt Romney.