Mitt Romney's Honeymoon Period May Be Coming to an End

Had you asked Mitt Romney a year ago how he would have liked the pre-primary period of the 2012 presidential election to play out, he probably would have said something like this: First, I'd like to be widely assumed to be the inevitable nominee. Then, I'd like to have a series of candidates emerge, capture public imagination for a few weeks or so, and then flame out spectacularly. It's OK with me if some of them move ahead of me in the polls briefly, if they come under the harsh glare of the media spotlight, then whither and die. It doesn't even matter if they all actually get in the race, so long as they take up all the oxygen one by one until they implode, all while making sure as few people as possible are paying attention to the reasons they don't like me.

That, of course, is what happened. As this race has gone on, we've barely been talking about the front-runner at all. First Mitch Daniels was going to be the hot Republican candidate. Then Donald Trump was going to upend the race (don't forget, he was actually leading in the polls for a while). Then we spent some time wondering if Sarah Palin was going to get in. Then Michele Bachmann came along, and we obsessed over her for a while. Then people started asking if that handsome Rick Perry would get into the race, which he did. Then everyone began asking if Chris Christie would run. Now Herman Cain is getting his 15 minutes. The most important fact about this endless cycle is that for the whole time, it has made Mitt Romney only the second- or third-most interesting candidate to talk about at any one time. Which means that reporters won't be spending their time investigating his past activities, or ruminating on his weaknesses.

Then Obama '12 chief strategist David Axelrod has a conference call, saying to reporters, hey, don't forget that Mitt is a flip-flopping flippity flip-flopper. The DNC has a YouTube channel called WhichMitt? that relays the same theme. So what does this tell us? That the Obama campaign is loaded and ready to go after Romney, and they know exactly how they're going to do it.

You can bet your Kerry '04 pin that the campaign has performed extensive polling and focus-group testing and determined that the flip-flopper charge is the most damaging attack they can make on Romney. It's not surprising. First of all, it's an awfully hard attack to parry. You can't say, "Hey, I've been totally consistent on any number of issues!" Second, ask any political consultant and s/he'll tell you that the most effective attacks use the target's own words against him. So those videos from Romney's early races of him emphatically declaring his support for Roe v. Wade and equality for gay people are going to be in heavy rotation for the next year. Romney has been extraordinarily lucky so far, but that's not going to last much longer.