I owe Mitt Romney a huge apology. For months, I've spilled a lot of ink writing about what a flawed candidate he is. There was the gaffe-tastic trip to Europe in July (http://scarylawyerguy.blogspot.com/2012/08/mitts-not-so-excellent-adventure.html), the "Romney Shambles" primary season, where he could not handily defeat the weakest field in modern Republican political history (http://scarylawyerguy.blogspot.com/2012/02/why-mitt-romney-his-glass-jaw-are.html) and a general election campaign that was teetering on the edge of making John McCain look competent in comparison (http://scarylawyerguy.blogspot.com/2012/09/mitt-romney-is-bad-at-running-for.html).
But that was then and this is now, and, buoyed by a debate performance that is being hailed as the greatest since Cicero was patrolling the cobbled streets of Rome, the former Massachusetts Governor has pulled himself up from the abyss of electoral doom and back into the race for President. So why is Mitt getting a big mea culpa from me? Simple. It turns out those obnoxious bonuses he paid to his strategists back in August were worth it. You see, the Governor and his team telegraphed his shameless shift to the center last week in Denver months ago during Eric Fehrnstrom's famous "Etch-A-Sketch" interview on CNN. As it turns out, either by design or necessity, the Mitt Romney who went on stage last week gambled that low information voters who do not watch or follow politics obsessively would simply accept that if words came out of his mouth that were both untrue and contradicted his past statements, but sounded moderate and reasonable, it would not matter.
And you know, what? It looks like he was right. The Romney "surge" appears to have validated P.T. Barnum's observation that no one ever went poor underestimating the intelligence of the American people. With journalists largely abdicating their role as fact checkers and style mattering far more than substance, Romney dropped a litany of falsehoods, flip flops and distortions on upwards of 70 million people and because the President did not call out these untruths and contradictions, they passed through unchallenged. The Romney team rolled the dice that even though their candidate's own words (see, e.g., "47 percent") were doing a more effective job of framing him as an out of touch plutocrat than any Obama ad could ever hope to, that once their man went on stage, well briefed and prepared, people would give him a second look.
So the Romney folks are either (1) evil geniuses, who waited until the moment both of maximum peril (polls were trending strongly in the President's favor pre-debate) and maximum opportunity (I mentioned those 70 million people, right?) and hoped their man would hit it out of the park and that Obama would either not be prepared or willing enough to go after Romney as he went from claims of being a "severe conservative" to one who embraced, at least rhetorically, greater regulation of Wall Street, "saving" Medicare and hiring more teachers (even though his stump speeches and policy statements support the exact opposite of all three) or (2) pulled an inside straight.
Either way, they earned their keep because a lot of professional pundits (not to mention the armchair variety like me) were already looking ahead to a second Obama term. Furthermore, because the fact checking on many of Romney's claims was slow to get off the ground, the narrative of his victory was setting in stone before anyone went back to look at whether what he said was consistent with prior positions. But Romney's team knew that the truthfulness mattered far less than the optics and therefore, even when fact checking exposed the dizzying array of lies, distortions and policy pirouettes, it hardly mattered because those same reporters were, in the next breath, acknowledging Romney's superior performance viz a viz President Obama.
But the piece de resistance to Romney's shift to the center is the sheer contempt it shows for that vaunted right wing base that his electoral fortunes are built on. You see, none of this calculated move to appeal to moderates works if the right wing abandons Romney; however, because conservatives have such antipathy for Obama, they are willing to watch Romney sing hosannas about Medicare and Social Security if it means he gets elected President. Once in office, tax cuts can be rammed through Congress thanks to reconciliation and Democrats' natural inclination toward compromise can be leveraged for further gain. If it was not so galling and bald faced in its mendacity, you would have to admire (forgive me) Romney's audacity.
So, Governor Romney, I apologize for doubting your ability to say and/or do anything to be elected President.