Moderate Mitt of the first debate was the only Mitt to have a shot in 2012
In a story about the looming GOP civil war, Jonathan Martin gets this
from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham:
“If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts,” said Graham. “We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”
I think Graham knows this, but he's all-but-certain to go nuts. It's not just that conservative Republicans will say Romney wasn't conservative enough, it's that there's zero chance that they will admit the only thing that gave him a prayer of winning this election was his sudden lurch to the center, starting with the first debate.
Remember, throughout the primary campaign and throughout the summer, Romney ran as a solid conservative. When Romney picked a running mate, he picked the most conservative choice possible. He made no attempt whatsoever to move to the middle during his convention. Remember the Clint Eastwood nonsense? That wasn't about broadening Romney's appeal. And when the 47 percent video came out, Romney didn't try to distance himself from it—he embraced it.
Through that entire stretch, Romney saw his poll numbers get worse and worse. (Check out Nate Silver's trend lines here.) Romney's numbers didn't start to improve until after the first debate, during which he presented himself as a moderate. It was during that debate that Romney said he would maintain the most popular parts of Obamacare, wouldn't cut taxes on the wealthy, and would emphasize bipartisanship.
Sure, what Romney said was a load of bull, but thanks to the fact that President Obama treated the debate like a joint press conference, Romney got away with his moderate act. And his numbers began to climb. Moderate Mitt had made this a race again.
But then the second and third debates came, and both the president and his campaign made the case that Romney was merely faking his moderation in order to win votes. Romney vigorously contested this, claiming that he'd actually supported bailing out the auto industry, that he supported Obama's position on Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he didn't support any policy that would deny women birth control coverage. This time, however, the pushback against Romney's claim to moderation raised question about his authenticity and honesty, eliminating most if not all of the gains from his first debate performance.
None of this will sway the right-wing base of the Republican Party, of course. Lindsey Graham is destined to go nuts. But at least he'll know that he's right.
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