Core or No Core?

The most noteworthy part of this Politico story on the Obama campaign’s attempt to define Mitt Romney comes at the end, when Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin quote a reporter’s reaction to the claim that the “real Romney” is a right-winger:

The aide’s argument — which can’t be recounted here because of the strict no-quotes, no names ground rules the White House imposes on such sessions — set off alarms among the White House press corps, political cadaver dogs paid to sniff nearly imperceptible changes in tone and language. Reporters, who can be quoted under the rules, harrumphed.

“He has a core now! You said he didn’t have a core — are you saying he has a core now?” asked an incredulous TV network correspondent.

As Thrush and Martin point out, the Obama campaign has had three messages when it comes to Mitt Romney: he’s a core-less flip-flopper who can’t be trusted, he’s a conservative ideologue who will bend to the will of the Republican base, and he is—in the words of Rick Perry—a dangerous “vulture capitalist.”

As a matter of messaging, these “cores” are complimentary; the Obama campaign intends to paint as Romney an opportunist who has gladly adopted the rhetoric and policies of the right-wing to win office. He’ll say and do anything for personal gain, as evidenced by his tenure at Bain Capital.

If this reporter’s reaction is any indication, the Obama campaign will have two problems as it attempts to define Romney. First, reporters are treating the three depictions in isolation of each other, so that each are mutually exclusive. If Romney has no core, then he can’t really be a right-winger, and if he is a right-winger, then it’s ridiculous to say that he has no core.

The second thing, and I’ve mentioned this before, is a basic incredulity at the idea that Romney actually sits on the right-wing of the Republican Party. Political observers still assume that we’re working with a “Massachusetts moderate,” who will return to the center as soon as its politically safe to do so. The problem, of course, is that—for the last two years—Romney has been emphatic about his commitment to conservative orthodoxy. Part of that is obviously an attempt to erase his past heterodoxy, but part of it—I think—is completely serious. Why else would he propose an economic plan that surpasses Paul Ryan’s in its attack on the social safety net? Why else would he commit to a hostile and belligerent foreign policy?

Romney has done nothing but announce that he’s running as a right-wing announce, and I’m honestly curious as to whether the Beltway will notice.