A recent Politico piece on former President Bill Clinton‘s advice to President Obama‘s reelection team is generating a lot of buzz in the political media. The general thrust of Clinton’s advice was to pivot from hammering Mitt Romney as a “flip-flopper” with “no core,” to defining him based on the conservative positions he staked out during the Republican primaries.
Politico‘s Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin reported on a meeting of the Team Obama braintrust at President Clinton’s Harlem office:
“[Clinton] said he thought Romney’s positions on the issues would ultimately be the best way to attack him,” said a Democrat briefed on the details of an amiable Nov. 9 meeting in Clinton’s Harlem office that included Axelrod, Democratic National Committee Executive Director Patrick Gaspard and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
“That’s what we are doing, but it doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t do the etch-a-sketch, flip-flop moments when they occur and we will,” added the operative — who says Obama’s campaign likely would have emphasized Romney’s conservative tilt once the primary was over, anyway.
Obviously, when a former two-term president talks, people listen, but Clinton’s advice, backed by internal polling, was put into practice months ago by former White House spokesman Bill Burton.
Burton recognized, early on, that the “flip-flop” attack could become problematic in a general election, where Romney’s “flexibility” could become almost an asset, as lightly-engaged independent voters might just fill in Romney’s blank slate with their own beliefs. Ironically, the “flip-flop” label acts as a shield against even the most extreme positions, which voters can simply convince themselves will be discarded by Romney once he’s elected.
To that end, he began a strategy that’s awfully similar to what President Clinton is now recommending. In November, Burton launched “Mitt Romney’s America,” an ad and social media campaign that took a look at what a country guided by Romney’s conservative positions might look like:
The problem is that making this pivot is extraordinarily difficult in Romney’s case. It’s like trying to run against Hannibal Lecter without mentioning the cannibalism. That difficulty is compounded by the fact that the Obama campaign has been pounding the fava beans and Chianti home for months now. If they had made this shift when Burton did, they might be in better shape now.
No matter how deeply the Obama campaign engraves Romney’s conservative positions in granite, they’re always a shake of the Etch-A-Sketch away from disappearing. The answer might be to constantly remind voters of who’s turning Romney’s knobs, but there’s a chance that hybrid message is too complicated to penetrate.
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