The Obama campaign did everything they could to exploit Mitt Romney’s reputation as an unprincipled flip-flopper during the GOP primary, but now the campaign seems to be conceding that this won’t be an effective attack during the general election. According to Politico, the new strategy is to portray Romney as an extreme conservative, taking advantage of the stances he took to bolster his conservative bona fides during the primary:
Last week, senior administration officials surprised reporters in a White House background briefing by correcting a questioner who suggested that Obama thought Romney had his “finger in the wind.”
The rebuke: Romney’s core is now filled in. With craven right-wing craziness.
The backgrounder, in turn, spawned a New York Times story, which allowed Plouffe to trial-balloon a new line of attack, comparing Romney to the archetypal GOP extremist loser: “Whether it’s tax policy, whether it’s his approach to abortion, gay rights, immigration, he’s the most conservative nominee that they’ve had going back to [1964 Republican candidate Barry] Goldwater.”
The problem is that Obama needs to bring out similar numbers of enthusiastic progressive voters as he did in 2008. Portraying Romney as a squishy flip-flopper is far less likely to scare liberal voters to the polls than portraying Romney as an extreme right-winger. The campaign also hopes that the message will help peel away independent voters, women and Hispanic voters.
Of course, that’s only going to happen if swing voters actually believe it. The conservative movement’s reluctance to embrace Romney as the nominee for the past year isn’t going to be forgotten quickly. He may have called himself a “severely conservative” governor, but his actual record in Massachusetts is far from it. And his temperament and style just don’t fit with the conventional image of a raving right-winger.
Which brings up another obstacle the Obama campaign will face with this strategy. Democrats rely heavily on liberal-leaning media and pop culture to get out their messages. Saturday Night Live and late night talk shows are the big reason why Sarah Palin was seen as a right-wing wacko in 2008, while Joe Biden was seen as a lovable dunce. They play a huge role in defining candidates. And Romney-the-Tea-Party-Extremist just doesn’t ring true on TV the way Romney-the-Robot-Phony does.