Attacking Mitt Romney

It looks increasingly likely that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for president, so the Obama campaign needs to decide just how they are going to eviscerate him. As the New York Times asks, "Do they go the out-of-touch, protector-of-Wall-Street route or the flip-flopper route?" The consensus from the smart people they talked to seems to be that painting Romney as overly conservative is the way to go.

Of course, Romney can't be both an extremist ideologue and a craven opportunist who'll say or do anything. Either he has the wrong values, or he has no values -- one or the other. Kevin Drum makes an interesting point, however: "The fact is that Romney has reserved almost all of his most extreme rhetoric for laughably over-the-top denunciations of Barack Obama, and that's not really a problem for him. By contrast, most of his issue positions have remained relatively tolerable. The truth is that Romney is unusually well positioned to moderate his image by summer, which is when people actually start paying attention." I'm sure he'll try, but I'm not so sure it'll work. As Jamelle pointed out yesterday, the longer the primary campaign goes on, the harder Romney will have to work to convince base voters he's sufficiently conservative, which makes the flop back the center all the more difficult.

It isn't impossible, however, to combine the flip-flopper attack, the extremist attack, and the protector-of-Wall-Street attack into one neat package. You could say that Romney is a plutocrat whose primary goal is serving the interests of the 1 percent. And in order to serve that goal, he'll take any position, no matter how extreme, if it gains him political advantage. Presto! It isn't necessary to argue that he is an extremist ideologue broadly speaking, only that he's so craven and devoid of convictions that he's likely to do scary things if it'll gain him a few extra points in the polls.

You can rest assured that the question "What's the best way to attack Mitt Romney?" is, as we speak, the subject of intense analysis within the Obama campaign. Their pollsters are testing various attacks to see which ones resonate. They'll be running focus group after focus group to see how voters think about Romney. They'll be cutting different versions of ads and testing which are most persuasive. Some campaigns are seat-of-the-pants affairs, but this isn't one of them. They prepare carefully, and they also understand the importance of creating a single, broad narrative that shapes the entire race.

That doesn't mean every piece of their message will fit perfectly into that narrative, but it will all add up to something that makes sense. It certainly appears that they will be presenting Obama as a fighter for the middle class facing off against Republicans who do the bidding of the wealthy and powerful. Their attack on Romney must therefore be the mirror image of that message, meaning presenting him as the wealthy and powerful's champion. That's the why, and Romney's flip-flops are the what. He used to be pro-choice, now he's pro-life? It's because he wants power to help himself and his wealthy friends. He used to favor an individual health insurance mandate, and now he says it's the death of freedom? That's because he'll say anything to anyone if it gets him into a position to screw the little guy. Rinse, repeat.

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