On the eve of his dual victories in Michigan and Arizona, Mitt Romney told the press corps: “It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments. We’ve seen throughout the campaign that if you’re willing to say really outrageous things that are accusatory and attacking President Obama that you’re going to jump up in the polls. You know, I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.”
Many in the right blogosphere who’ve been giving voice to the not-Romney faction chose to take offense, claiming he had insulted the base.
But, on the eve of two critical primaries, he was of course chastising Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum (he of JFK’s-speech-made-him-“throw up” and Obama-is-a-“snob”-for-favoring-college). Romney’s point quite plainly was to say that he wouldn’t strive for momentary bumps in the polls to “try and get support.”
This was not only a bit of smart political analysis (Santorum’s rhetoric backfired on him in Michigan) but a statement that he wouldn’t go trolling for fringe votes at the expense of a viable coalition or his own persona.
After all, he won Michigan by taking the “somewhat conservative” and the “moderate or liberal” vote and getting more than a third of the “very conservative” vote. An effort to out-pander Santorum would not work and would likely be counterproductive. The hard-core anti-Romney faction won’t give him credit, but this is one of a several efforts by Romney to defend who he is: a center-right Republican. (He likewise hasn’t come out with a flat tax or made wild claims to balancing the budget in a few years.)
Romney is most comfortable when he doesn’t stretch to be an everyman voter. Likewise, he isn’t going to make himself unelectable by taking positions and using rhetoric that will make independent voters cringe. The anti-Romney right might not like the reminder that their candidates of choice have proven temperamentally unfit and rhetorically unsound. But Romney shouldn’t hesitate to remind voters that what he lacks in excitement he makes up for in sobriety. That’s not a bad thing when you are running for president.