Who’s Afraid of Mitt Romney?

John Heilemann has a big-picture report on the Obama campaign’s shift from hope to fear. Rather than focusing on an affirmative reelection message, Obama’s strategy is to paint Mitt Romney as a composite of various nightmarish right-wingers in the hope that it will scare off independent voters and shore up the progressive base:

Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago—running more negative ads than any campaign in history—what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”

As I’ve written before, the problem with this is that it’s not believable. Romney was the governor of Massachusetts for four years, and held pro-choice positions until 2004. Even under President George W. Bush, who was staunchly pro-life since his teenage years, and a majority-Republican Congress, abortion remained legal. The idea that it would likely be criminalized under Romney is absurd. The same goes for denying women contraceptives. If Romney is so radical that he opposes birth control, how on earth did he get elected governor of arguably the most liberal state in the country?

Beyond Romney’s record, his personality doesn’t fit the stereotype of the extreme right-winger. He’s mild-mannered and accentless, and walks without swagger. He chooses his words carefully and rarely goes off message. The Obama campaign can compare him to fringe characters like Joe Arpaio all it wants, but the disparity is unmistakable.

The progressive media outlets will definitely pick it up, but, again, it’s hard to see Comedy Central, “SNL” and late-night talk shows buying into the Romney-the-Tea-Party-Extremist narrative. Even when these shows do take shots at Romney, they steer clear of that line. For example, here are some lyrics from Mick Jagger’s performance on “SNL” last week:

“Mr. Romney, you know, he’s a mensch. But he always plays a straight affair. Yes, Mr. Romney he’s a hard-working man, and he always says his prayers. Yeah, but there’s one little thing about him – don’t ever let him cut your hair.”

The hair cut part is a reference to the Romney high school bullying story, but take a look at the rest of the lyrics. A mensch, who plays a straight affair, is hard-working and says his prayers? That’s it? The Obama campaign has a lot of work ahead if they’re going to turn that guy into a boogeyman.