In the last week or so, a number of commentators have begun to debate whether the Obama campaign should paint Mitt Romney as an ideological extremist or as an inveterate flip-flopper. Bill Clinton is apparently advising that the answer should be "ideological extremist." But the real answer is, "Yes!" There's no reason Mitt Romney can't be a spineless, pandering flip-flopper who is also in thrall to the extremists in his party. One is an argument about who he is (flip-flopper), and the other is an argument about what he'll do (all kinds of horrible extremist things). There isn't a contradiction. And as Jonathan Bernstein tell us, congressional Democrats are getting ready to lend the president a hand by forcing a whole bunch of votes designed to make Romney choose between taking a position widely popular with the general electorate and taking a position that will satisfy his party and his base:
Dems are currently pushing votes on no less than three major issues, all of which are designed to force Romney to make difficult choices.
First up: The student loan rate extension. Romney has already committed to Barack Obama's position on this one, but House Republicans are reluctant to go along.
Next: The Violence Against Women Act, where Republicans in Congress have objected to reauthorization if modest Democratic changes are included.
And after that, the Senate will be taking up the "Paycheck Fairness" bill, which covers discrimination against equal pay for women.
Each of these is apt to be highly popular, and yet in each case Congressional Republicans are expected to oppose the bills as proposed.
They're engineering a clever series of Catch-22s, because no matter which choice Romney makes, Democrats can attack him. If he breaks with Republicans, they'll say, "Aha! Flip-flopper!" And if he goes along with Republicans, they'll say, "Aha! Extremist!"
And even though Republicans control the House, they have no ability to do the same thing to President Obama. There aren't major issues where congressional Democrats take one position and Obama would really like to take another position. And even if there were, doing so wouldn't be any real risk to him, since he doesn't have a reputation as a flip-flopper. House Republicans can introduce bills condemning hangnails or praising grandma's apple pie, but none of them are going to put Barack Obama in a box.