Is Mitt Romney Immune to the Extremist Charge?

Michael Tomasky looks at Mitt Romney’s speech in Des Moines, Iowa, and wonders why the Republican nominee would tie himself so closely to the radical right of the Republican Party:

Obama can say to voters: “Look at how far-right congressional Republicans are going lead this guy around by the nose if he becomes president.” Most independents may want tough talk on the deficit, but they certainly don’t want the Tea Party running the country.

Can Romney keep his distance from Boehner? Typically in presidential election years, the presidential nominee is given lots of free rein by others in the party to run whatever sort of campaign he needs to run to win. But the strange brew of Romney’s suspect right-wing credentials and the no-compromise posture of the Tea Party wing might make that a bit trickier this time around the track.

As time goes on, and the public continues to see Romney as an acceptable nominee, I’m less sure that he’ll be harmed by his proximity to the Tea Party. Yes, his economic policies are radical, and yes, he’s adopted the bellicose foreign policy of George W. Bush, but he projects an image of moderation. Not only is he calm, composed, and well-presented—there’s no doubt that Romney has an excellent tailor—he’s also the wealthy former governor of Massachusetts, a state known for its liberal politicians: Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry. For most voters, there’s nothing in his background to suggest extremism, even if it drips from his rhetoric.

Indeed, this extends to the reporters who cover Romney. In Beltway political discourse, “extremism” is short-hand for a style of politics: aggressive, prickly, and occasionally sanctimonious. Romney is none of those things, and it affects the coverage he receives from mainstream outlets. On policy, there is nothing to distinguish Mitt Romney from Rick Santorum; they both support the Ryan plan, an expanded military, Obamacare repeal, an end to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a rollback on gay rights, restrictions on abortion, and a personhood amendment to the Constitution.

The only difference is in their political personas. If Mitt Romney talked with a working-class affect and was aggressively anti-elite, he would be labeled an extremist. Likewise, if Santorum were the privileged son of a former governor, we would assume centrist views.

I’ve said this before, but one of the best things Romney has on his side is his demeanor. He can espouse a radical view of government, without worrying that anyone will actually identify him as a radical.

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