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Why’d Mitt Romney Take So Long to Move to the Middle?

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The surprise about Mitt Romneyís recent move to the middle isnít that it occurred but that it took so long.

It has been standard political fare for presidential hopefuls to play to the party faithful during the fight for the nomination and then move to the middle in the general election to woo swing voters, who generally donít spend their time reading John Rawls, Cornel West, Milton Friedman or Friedrich von Hayek.

Maybe Romney really has embraced the staunchly conservative positions on immigration, taxes and other issues that he espoused during the primaries and much of the general election. But Iíd bet youíd have a hard time convincing veteran political reporters and dispassionate observers thatís the real Romney.

Romney is a businessman, not an ideologue, which is why conservatives never really trusted him (and why they voted for any other Republican in the race who had a pulse). Itís also why Democratic strategists feared him from the start. 

For a country looking for an alternative to President Barack Obama, Romney the problem-solver looked like a very formidable alternative.

But instead of moving toward the middle during the late spring and summer, the former chief of Bain Capital remained stuck in place, focused more on rallying conservatives behind his candidacy and avoiding the inevitable flip-flopper
(Etch A Sketch) attacks.

Romneyís ó and GOP strategistsí ó problem is that a chunk of the party doesnít seem to value problem-solving, compromise, experience, coalition-building, intelligence and intellectual sophistication, so any move to the center would entail some risk.

This, after all, is the party that in 2010 nominated Christine OíDonnell (Delaware), Sharron Angle (Nevada), Ken Buck (Colorado) and Joe Miller (Alaska) for the Senate, exceedingly weak nominees who lost their races in November during a huge national Republican wave. (Miller, of course, lost to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who won a write-in campaign.)

And this cycle, the same party nominated Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in Indiana for the Senate, turning two slam-dunk victories into much more difficult races than they needed to be. And, of course, itís also the party of Rep. Paul Broun (Ga.), a medical doctor who seems to think that evolution is a lie ďstraight from the pit of Hell.Ē 

So maybe itís no wonder Romney was slow in moving back to the middle. 

If Romney the conservative has appeal to the GOP base, Romney the pragmatist is much more appealing to swing voters and suburban women, the kinds of voters who could well determine whether Obama wins a second term. And when you are losing nationally at the beginning of October, there is plenty of reason to change message and positioning, if you can.

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