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

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Democrats and liberals have reacted to the new, more moderate Romney with alarm. To some, he’s a flip-flopper. To others, he is a fraud and a liar. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein calls him a “pragmatic executive,” which doesn’t sound bad until you read the next four sentences.

“When he needs to govern from the center, he does. When he needs to lurch to the right, off he goes. So if you want to know how he’ll govern, don’t listen to what he says. Look at who he has reason to fear,” Klein writes, clearly suggesting that because Romney will “fear” the right, he will govern from that way.

Because a Romney victory would likely produce a GOP Senate to go along with the Republican House, Klein argues, “there’s little reason to believe Romney would find himself forced to work with Democrats if he was president, at least at the outset.” 

“There’s no way he’ll pick fights with the right in order to govern from the center,” he adds.

Maybe. Or maybe not. But I’m not sure why Klein thinks Romney would be less likely to govern from the center than Obama, who had a chance to show his political independence by embracing the Simpson-Bowles plan but never did.

In any case, the idea that Romney would have no incentive to reach out to Democrats simply sounds wrong. 

Even if Republicans win the Senate, there is no way they will have the super-majority in that body that Democrats did for almost nine months. To get anything through both chambers of Congress, a President Romney certainly would have a strong incentive to reach out to Senate Democrats.

Klein may be right that Romney would be intimidated by conservatives and might choose not to govern from the center. But Romney the problem-solver might decide that doing what is right for the country might be good politics after all.

Strategically, Romney has found the right positioning for the campaign’s final month. It’s up to Democrats to discredit his new message, both in the paid media and the earned media. Vice President Joseph Biden will have one opportunity, and the president will have two others. Their ability to win that argument could determine who will be sworn in as president in January.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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