A couple months ago, during the GOP primary, I speculated that Mitt Romney was benefitting from a phenomenon you might call “flip-flop fatigue.” The crush of equivocations, reversals and rhetorical contortions had gotten so relentless and ubiquitous that people had grown too exhausted to bother tracking or objecting to them anymore.
In the context of the general election, this has only grown more pronounced. If anyone thought conservatives, or neutral commentators, would hold Romney to the positions he professed to hold during the primary — and wouldn’t let him pivot towards middle in the general election — the early signs are that he will be granted all the maneuvering room he’ll need.
In the last few days, Romney has signaled that he is Etch-A-Sketching away his previous positions on immigration and on student loans. Romney has now hinted that he’s open to supporting Marco Rubio’s DREAM Act. If Romney embraces Rubio’s approach, as seems likely, will he pay any price from the right? Romney’s own immigration adviser, Kris Kobach, has said any such measure would also have to include self-deportation to be acceptable to conservative hard-liners. But now Kobach is already signaling that he thinks he and Rubio can coexist comfortably in Romney’s universe.
Meanwhile, during the primary, Romney repeatedly drew a hard line against government help with student debt. But as soon as Obama launched a campaign to extend low interest rates on federally funded student loans, and signaled that he’d make it central in the presidental race, Romney supported Obama’s position. Will conservatives who previously opposed the Obama student loan measure revolt? Well, House Republicans are already finessing the issue by signaling that there may not be any significant differences between them and Romney on the issue, after all.
Putting aside the reaction from conservatives, who have their own reasons for letting Romney’s pivoting skate, both of these turnarounds are being widely covered in the press as mere process stories, as if they’re as inevitable and unremarkable as a campaign staffing up in advance of the general.
Call it flip-flop fatigue in reverse. First Romney flip-flopped to the right, away from previously held positions, in order to get through the primary. While some of his rivals objected, many commentators treated it as business as usual, as stuff Romney just had to say to appeal to the right wing base. And now, precisely because commentators previously decided he didn’t mean any of the stuff he said to get through the primary, few if any are holding him accountable for those positions now in any meaningful way, and he’s paying little price in the way of pundit scorn for flip-flopping right back to the center again. It was all part of the game before, and it’s all part of the game once again.