John Heilemann has a thoughtful post-debate analysis in yesterday's New York Magazine.

Never mind that he extended a stiff middle finger to the fire-breathing right by recasting himself as Moderate Mitt. After weeks of having a likely loss jammed down their throats, conservatives thrilled at the taste of victory on their tongues.
We can't let Romney get away with erasing months of pandering to right-wing extremism. Wingnuts may be going along for now, but if a few journalists do their jobs, and ask the candidate and his surrogates on the record which position he actually stands for, which Romney is actually running, he'll soon by tripping over his own contradictions.  He's going to have to answer to somebody.

Heilemann reminds readers of Romney's spokesman Eric Fernstrom's nearly-fatal admission that his candidate was a shameless panderer back in the primaries. I know the etch-a-sketch idea has wide currency, but it almost seems like folks have forgotten the sinister implications.  Just in case anyone's forgotten:

“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” Fehrnstrom responded. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again.”
Romney's smirk on Wednesday was the smile of a man who had gotten away with that erasure.  We can't let that happen.  As Heilemann says,
But Romney’s late-stage repositioning presents a strategic conundrum for Obama’s campaign. Earlier this year, when it became clear that the former Massachusetts governor would be their opponent, Team Obama wrestled with two different, and at least ostensibly contradictory, framings of Romney: on one hand, as a flip-flopping phony, and on the other, as a right-wing extremist. Bill Clinton, among others, advised the campaign to abandon the former and embrace the latter. “They tried to do this with me, the flip-flopper thing,” Clinton counseled, but “it just doesn’t work”—because voters don’t mind so long as the candidate is flipping and flopping in their direction.

The Obamans came to agree, jettisoning their condemnations of Romney as coreless. Instead, just as they had done to John McCain in 2008, they relentlessly sought to portray Romney as a clone of George W. Bush—and as pursuing an agenda indistinguishable from that of the tea-quaffing congressional Republicans, which swing voters look upon unkindly. And Romney, somewhat mystifyingly, played right into the caricature.

At the debate in Denver, however, Romney’s long-awaited Etch-a-Sketch moment finally arrived.

I think there need to be two lines of attack. We can acknowledge both the extremist and the weasel. Our job is to emphasize Romney as the substance-free candidate, the Etch-a-Sketch canididate--the panderer, and the flip-flopper.  A steady drumbeat of examples of Romney's shapeshifting, contradictory positions.  Let the wingnuts fully understand the "moderation" of the new Romney, and remind them that this is the man who governed Massachusetts, and might even be the real man.

That will force him back into the embrace of the Tea Party and the Ryan budget, and forced to defend the extremism he's been running on since the primaries. He has to be one thing or another. We simply can't let him have it both ways.

Your Email has been sent.