The Twirling Mitt

By Emily Theroux

One blogger called Mitt Romney’s miraculous conversion from Severely Conservative Xenophobe to Patron Saint of the Student Loan “a severely pandering flip.” Mitt’s Miraculous Pivot into Etch-a-Sketch Mode, after winning five northeastern primaries, may be a little pricklier than he expects when he floats back down to earth.

The pundit buzz so far suggests it might not be as easy as Romney previously anticipated to wriggle out of all those far-right primary stances he took in order to prove his conservative bona fides and clinch the Republican nomination. Mitt essentially promised conservative ideologues the moon. He bent over backwards and walked on his hands, vowing to perform impossible fiscal miracles: balancing the federal budget, cutting taxes to 17 percent of GDP, and capping federal spending at 20 percent of GDP. He even sweetened the pot by throwing in all of that contentious social-policy mumbo-jumbo that really gets the wingnuts worked up. Romney championed mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, federal funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, the Blunt Amendment allowing employers to deny insurance coverage for contraception on moral grounds, and “personhood amendments” that would ban federal funding for most forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization.

Romney proclaimed so insistently that he was now and had always been a conservative, it’s difficult to envision how the far right would ever allow him to back down from his extremist positions. However, Mitt and the GOP appear to have cooked up a master plan, which is clever, unprincipled, and absolutely brazen. You might call it “implausible deniability.” Despite the immutable evidence provided by videotape, All-of-the-Above Mitt has begun to disavow ever saying any of those extremist things that everyone heard him say. Just in time for the Big Pivot, Romney went into full vacillation posture. Out of the right side of his lying teeth, he assured House Republicans he was on board with heartlessly slashing $33 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade. Out of the left side, he began pandering to poor people, who always want you to do something they aren’t conservative enough to do for themselves. (Isn’t that the GOP Golden Rule?)

By primary night, Romney abruptly stopped spinning all of that slash-and-burn rhetoric and began tracing his gradual arc toward the cheap seats. He didn’t say the word “conservative” a single time, and he actually pronounced the following words: “As I look around at the millions of Americans without work, the graduates who can’t get a job, the soldiers who return home to an unemployment line, it breaks my heart.” (Imagine that: few of us knew he had one.)

Mitt’s kinder, gentler “general-election-speak,” however, already has a razor-sharp spur “Pearcing” its right flank. Immigration spin can be a really sticky wicket, especially if the entire Southern Hemisphere is breathing down your neck for “absolutely” supporting Jan Brewer’s border-busting anti-immigration bill. The time had come for Mitt to saddle up his Missouri Foxtrotter, fetch his designer cowboy boots and Parisian riding crop, and bid “au revoir” as the missus cantered off on her Austrian warmblood to execute a few precise dressage pirouettes. Only then would Mitt be ready to gallop off into the Arizona sunset for a word with Russell Pearce, who thought the slippery candidate was still backing him 1,000 percent, like he had promised the day before.
You remember Pearce – that big, beefy state senator who sponsored Arizona’s “Papers, Please” Law, the one that lets troopers pull over suspicious-looking “perps” for a bald tire or a busted taillight and then demand four different kinds of ID if they look – well, you know, “illegal.” (Rep. Brian Bilbray said you can tell which ones are illicit because their shoes look different from other people’s.)

Mitt Romney said a few choice things about undocumented immigrants, too, when he was sucking up to the Tea Party so hard, he almost tripped and fell into Boston Harbor. Remember his solemn recommendation that all 12 million undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans simply “self-deport”? He also promised during a January debate that he would veto any version of the DREAM Act that offered a path to citizenship for Latino college graduates. Now, Florida fresman Senator Marco Rubio is working to draft a similar bill that would offer the college education without the guaranteed path to citizenship – although diehard Tea Partiers warn they may oppose it. I wonder if the trees are going to be “just the right height” in Arizona or if Mitt can find some “cheesy grits” in Florida (both places he and Rubio are going to have to spend lots of time puckering up in if Mitt’s going to have any hope of wriggling out of this unholy mess he’s blundered into).

The newly minted center-right candidate has several hurdles to climb in “making nice” with the conservative base he seems to be deserting. Before his campaign manager jostled the Etch-a-Sketch and wiped clean the slate of far-right talking points, Romney had been palling around with dubious characters like anti-immigration activist Kris Kobach, whom he now denies was a campaign adviser. After having followed anti-gay, anti-Mormon shock jock Bryan Fischer onto the CPAC stage last fall, Romney later riled the volatile Fischer when he first signaled his course change by hiring a gay foreign policy spokesman.

After the serious swivel began on primary night, Mitt genuflected shamelessly at the altar of general-election bywords: “urban children,” “veterans who need jobs,” and “moms and dads who never thought they’d be on food stamps” – the kinds of heresies that were unheard-of weeks earlier. Conservative leaders are generally holding their tongues about Romney’s new center-right drift, at least on minor policy matters, because they would rather have anyone in the White House than Barack Obama. House Republicans may be largely keeping mum on Mitt’s new centrist position on student loans, for instance, but they are adamant about their support for Paul Ryan’s Dickensian orthodoxy on the 2013 federal budget and its drastic cuts to social programs.
Back in March, “Willard Scrooge” had grumped, in response to a college student’s question at a town hall meeting, “It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that … Don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.” Never one to covet popularity, Mitt had yet to experience it, and it looked at that point as if he probably never would.

Now, it appeared as if Miserly Mitt had been visited by three ghosts. On primary eve, he raced back to the teleprompters at the apparent urging of his campaign manger and did a full frontal flip-flop with a half-twist, contradicting his own previous position to such a radical extent that he now wholeheartedly agrees with his Democratic rival. “I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” Mitt stammered, scarcely able to believe such benevolent words were coming out of his mouth. “There was some concern that would expire halfway through the year. I support extending the temporarily relief on interest rates … in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.”

Extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market? Urban children suffering in the snow? Homeless veterans shivering under bridges? Next thing you know, Compassionate Mitt will be stuffing the pockets of poor people, not hedge fund managers, with $100 bills, and proclaiming it’s Christmas morning in America. If it will get him elected, he’ll say any flip-flopping thing. But I don’t think, for some reason, that immigrants in Arizona – or excruciatingly severe conservatives like Bryan Fischer or Jacob Marley’s ghost – are going to climb aboard.

When Election Day finally rolls around, which Mitt Romney will show up to say whatever urban children want to hear?

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