Mitt Romney: Flip-Flop Fatigue

Mitt Romney at the outset of our election process was basically known as a moderate Republican governor when he ran the state of Massachusetts. Ultimately he spent most of his efforts signing a record number of vetoes, a modest number of which were overridden by a predominantly democratic legislature. He says he cut taxes many times and near the end of his term as governor he worked very hard to help construct an important comprehensive healthcare plan which later became known as Romney-care. In 2008, he was an early presidential candidate but dropped out relatively early in the Republican primary process. In the early going in 2012, he clearly began to have the same set of critical problems. He was perceived as not conservative enough until he gradually moved toward conservative positions of a number of issues. Early on he disavowed Romney-care and said he would work to repeal “Obamacare” , the federal heath care program program more formally known as the Affordable Care Act, interestingly modeled after Romney-care.

This change became the first of many issues that Governor Romney has changed his views about. Thus, he was painted early on as a flip-flopper. Most observant voters clearly saw it as an interesting, but flawed attempt to win the nomination by gradually absorbing conservative positions and shedding his mantra as a moderate, or at least enough of it to survive deeply into the primary season. Strongly conservative Republicans fought this trend and sent in one champion after the other to block a Romney nomination early.

When, in one of the debates, Governor Romney moved to the right of the strongly conservative Newt Gingrich, the latter was appalled. Gingrich suggested effectively that Mitt Romney was a man without core principle, that he would say anything on any subject whether he believed it or not just to win the Republican nomination for President. Romney became even more “severely conservative”  to try to win the nomination.  Things did not go smoothly until near the end, but Romney retained his conservative stripes until the first debate.

Eventually Republicans chose Paul Ryan as their Vice-Presidential candidate. It’s not really clear yet if Ryan was a wise choice, but Ryan’s well-known views on cutting costs of entitlement programs consistently confused Governor Romney’s related program proposals. In addition, the voter suppression programs strongly supported by conservative Republicans, Romney’s own comments to country-club rich Republicans about a so-called 47 percent of the electorate that was on-the-take and who would never be for him and therefore are “people he will not worry about,” were among the significant missteps  made early in by the Romney-Ryan campaign.

At the time of the first debate the situation was critical. Romney, the old moderate Mitt, showed up sounding far less conservative, changing and masking previous positions to a significant extent and sounding clearer and well-focused. He was well practiced and crisp in his responses. The President was not. In one memorable evening, the presidential race which had been opening widely in President Obama’s favor stopped dead in it’s tracks and returned to the place it had started–nearly dead even.

In the two subsequent debates between Governor Romney and President Obama, the latter may have regained a little ground but not nearly as much as was lost in the first critical debate. In trying to sound like a more reasonable moderate, yet carefully  scripted candidate, Governor Romney has created numerous apparent reversals of position. These are far too numerous to address in detail, but googling “Romney flip-flops” may be a good place to start. You’d think that this would be a terrible debate strategy: lie a little (or a lot), change your mind on any matter that may benefit the campaign, look presidential, but strong, and smile a lot.

The advantages are important to think about. First, the flip-flops are now advanced to such a magnitude that they are a desensitizing element of the Romney mantra. He’s not just a flip-flopper, but a legendary flip-flopper. He may be the quintessential flip-flopper of our time. He has left a few basic principles that define the Romney candidacy, but they are increasingly difficult to find. Many voters are confused, and that could be a serious disadvantage. Voters are asking: Who is he and what does he actually stand for? How will he act if elected president?

When Governor Romney speaks on the stump over the next 12 days, he will be wise to try to talk through some of these inconsistencies and remind voters what he really believes and how he will act if elected president. At the same time President Obama may concentrate in both adds and in stump speeches on Romney’s quintessential flip-flopping. This direction by President Obama in stump speeches could be a mistake. He would likely be better served to focus on the positive directions that should be taken in his next four years if re-elected, and spend less of his precious time on Governor Romney’s inconsistencies. If you need to make the case that Romney is a flip-flopper of epidemic proportions, it’s likely the listener is from a foreign land (or Mars) and has not been following the American election.

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