The Delicate Timing of Mitt Romney's Pivot to the Center

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 11:24 AM EDT

Yesterday Mitt Romney complained that President Obama is "setting up a straw man" in his campaign attacks, an accusation sure to mean absolutely nothing to almost everyone and to be unpersuasive to those few who do know what he's talking about. But that's OK. Obviously Romney is at the point where he's just trying out campaign themes to see which ones stick. That one probably won't (too cerebral for the base, too dumb for the chattering classes), but his "hide and seek" charge, unveiled in the same speech, might have more legs. That's the accusation that Obama is cleverly hiding his true second-term intentions and plans to surprise us all when he's reelected by unveiling an (even more) shocking pro-socialist, anti-Christian, soul-destroying agenda.

Most normal people hear this and think "Huh?" What's Romney talking about? Well, this is one of those alternate reality versions of Obama who lives in conservative fundraising letters. Paul Waldman explains:

You see, as far as base Republicans are concerned, there are two kinds of Obama policies. The first kind is the freedom-destroying, Constitution-desecrating, pulling-us-toward-socialist-dystopia awfulness. Like health care reform, or repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The second kind is the long con, the things he has done to lull the American people into a false sense of security before the second term comes and he unveils the horror of his true agenda. Like the way he has done nothing to restrict gun purchases, which only proves just how diabolical his plan to take away every American's guns really is.

The question is, what does this mean? This is base catnip, not rhetoric designed to appeal to independents, who think this is crazy talk. Paul suggests that it means Romney's long-awaited general election shift may be harder to pull off than we think: "At a moment when he's got the nomination pretty well locked up, Romney is still trying to assure conservatives that he's one of them, that he hates who they hate and fears what they fear. That 'pivot to the center' could be a while in coming."

This is going to be a continuing Romney problem, all right, amplified by the fact that keeping the Republican base on board requires more than just dog whistles these days. They really want to know that you're on board with all their fever swamp notions of who and what Obama really is. They won't accept halfhearted sentiments. They want the full monty.

Still, these are early days. Romney has plenty of time to throw enough red meat to appease the base and get them solidly on his side. We have short attention spans these days, and if Romney does this for another couple of months, and starts his pivot around June or so, that should be plenty of time. By August no one will even remember he ever said this stuff.

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