I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.
-Romney 2012 Communications Director Eric Fehrnstrom, on what happens once the primaries are over.
There you go. With Rick Santorum out, it's time to shake the Etch A Sketch. While it's possible that the search for the Not-Romney will switch back to Newt, most observers believe it's unlikely. And you Ron Paul supporters need to accept facts; it's been over for a very long time. It's gonna be Mittens, whether you like it or not.
It's going to be fun watching the hyper-partisan right shake their own Etch A Sketches. After months of bashing Romney as someone just short of a commie, it'll be interesting to see them line up behind him and declare him History's Finest Candidate. The Inevitable has indeed become The Inevitable; it's time for the heretics to see the error of their ways and rejoin the fold.
But admitting error and embracing reality are not acts that come easily to many conservatives. Some seem incapable of doing them at all. And it may be that the search for the Not-Romney will continue -- among the two candidates who are Mitt Romney.
Now that Mitt Romney is the unofficial GOP nominee, his campaign is busily preparing to reintroduce him to the swing constituencies he alienated during the GOP nomination process. The question is this: Will anyone let him make this pivot?
In an interesting twist, conservative Republicans and Democrats alike share an interest in holding Romney to the positions he took during the primary. Both sides agree on one point: They want Campaign 2012 to shape up as a grand ideological struggle between two starkly different visions for the nation’s future. Conservatives don’t want to merely deny Obama a second term by any means necessary, and particularly not with any calculated, craven move to the “center.” They want to see Obama decisively dispatched in an ideological death match that reaffirms the superiority and dominance of their worldview.
Democrats, meanwhile, also want the contest to be framed along similarly grandiose ideological lines. They believe swing voters ultimately will choose Obama’s values, priorities and vision if Romney can be kept in the ideological prison he built during the primary.
For their part, Team Romney is ready to shake that Etch A Sketch. "Voters will now look at Mitt differently and through a different prism. We can use this new beginning as an opportunity to reintroduce the campaign and the candidate," an anonymous Romney adviser told the Washington Post.
But if a lot of people on both sides of the aisle want to keep the GOP primary version of Romney, how easy is it going to be to shift gears? There are a lot of very simple ways to keep the old version going -- especially for conservative holdouts. The most obvious would be to attack Democrats and President Obama for opposing positions Romney held before he tried to shake off his wingnut pandering. As the candidate tries to soften his tone, this seems to be the easiest way to resharpen it. If Romney tries to retreat from the War on Women, for example, conservatives can easily drag him back to the front lines. "President Obama wants to continue to pour federal tax money into Planned Parenthood," GOP Die Hard can say. "I agree with Mitt Romney -- no federal funding for Planned Parenthood!"
For dems it's a little harder. The media has a bad habit of forgetting everything someone has ever said and concentrating only on the present. As Greg Sargent puts it, Romney's rightwing extremism in the GOP primaries may "merely be written off as stuff Romney just had to say to get through the primary but didn’t really mean -- you know, as just part of the game." Democrats bringing up Romney's past statements may be ignored.
But it seems to me that there's a precedent for this sort of strategy. It wouldn't be quite the same thing, because in the case of Mitt Romney, it would actually be honest.
Boston Globe, September 2004:
When President Bush accused his Democratic challenger of having a history of "flip-flops" last week, it marked the first time he had ever used the label outright on the campaign trail.
"No matter how many times Senator Kerry flip-flops, we were right to make America safer by removing Saddam Hussein from power," Bush said without fanfare in a campaign stop here, his aides barely bothering to note that a new phrase had been added to the usual campaign address.
It used to be that consistency was the most important thing in the world to conservatives. Or, at least, they pretended it was.
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