It is as predictable as the tides: If Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination, there will be a roar of commentary to the effect that, oh, Romney didn’t really mean all the extreme things he said during the primary; he’s really a moderate at heart who just had to play to the base on TV for a few months. And that dynamic will be hastened when Romney (which he inevitably will do) moderates his tune on social issues, the main yardstick many reporters and pundits use to judge a politician’s ideology.

But E.J. Dionne argues in a must-read this morning that if you look at the economic policies Romney is embracing, and the economic worldview underlying them, he’s actually a radical and an extremist. His massive tax cuts for the rich would radically redistribute wealth upwards while slicing away at the safety net; combine those policy priorities with his revealing “gaffes” about his own privilege, and what you’re left with are “deeply held and radical views about how wealth and power ought to be distributed in the United States.”

One of the most frustrating conventions of our political coverage is that “moderation” is ascribed to politicians not just because of their views on social issues, but because of something more arbitrary: Their tone. In this usage, a “moderate” Republican is basically someone who doesn’t sound as crazy as Michele Bachmann or — to pick someone who’s a bit more relevant right now — Rick Santorum.

Romney will inevitably benefit from the relentless focus on tone and social issues as the key markers of ideology once the pivot to the general election begins. Making this more perverse, Romney will enjoy the media designation as “moderate” even as he continues to embrace his economic worldview — which Dionne aptly describes as “extremism for the privileged” — and doesn’t moderate it in the least.

* Obama to ramp up pushback on gas prices: The President will call on Congress today to strip oil companies of their subsidies, underscoring yet again that GOP protection of the governmental largesse Big Oil enjoys will be key to Dem efforts to rebut GOP attacks over rising gas prices and to redirect public anger over them.

* Blunt amendment vote set for today: The main political event of the day will be the Senate vote on the Blunt amendment, which is set for 11 a.m. today. As David Dayen puts it, this will force every Senator “to take a stand on allowing employers to impose their personal beliefs to deny medical procedures for their employees, even if they don’t share those beliefs.”

Keep an eye out for GOP defections, which will help Dems use this as a wedge issue in the presidential and Congressional elections this year.

* Romney camp vastly outspending Santorum in Ohio: This is what the pro-Romney forces are banking on to narrow the gap in the state: “Already, Mr. Romney’s campaign and the `super PAC’ backing him have, combined, committed $3.4 million here to television and radio advertising through Tuesday, according to data from a rival campaign. Mr. Santorum’s campaign and the super PAC that supports him have committed just over $500,000.”

It’s a measure of how high the stakes are in Ohio for Romney, and of the degree to which Romney’s viability has rested on his ability to vastly outspend rivals with negative ads tearing them down.

* The key to a Santorum win in Ohio: An important dynamic to watch: Santorum’s loss in Michigan suggests that his social issues stances are damaging him among women. So the Santorum camp has launched an aggressive effort to sand off his rough edges and to apeal to that demographic, which could determine whether he delivers a high-stakes Ohio defeat to Romney, ensuring this battle continues deep into the spring.

* Could Obama win reelection comfortably? Demographer Ruy Teixeira digs into recent polling and finds that Obama’s 2008 coalition seems to be slowy reasserting itself, arguing that if perceptions of the direction of the economy continue swinging upwards, he could come close to winning by a 2008 margin.

* It’s all about the perceptions of the economy’s direction: Relatedly, Ezra Klein:

President Obama’s reelection message is that America is making an economic comeback. And the facts back him up. The country is richer now that it was before the financial crisis, or than it’s been at any other point in its history.

But the key to his message working is that, in November, it feels like we’re coming back. And a lot of that will have to do with the distribution of growth this year. It’s easy to imagine 2012 beating 2011’s 1.7 percent growth, but if that growth comes mostly in the first two quarters, and the economy slows a bit in the back half of the year — perhaps due to a summer spike in gas prices — it will be bad news for Obama. Conversely, if the second quarter is a bit slower, but the economy accelerates in the third and fourth quarters, it will be very good news for Obama.

It seems like a very close race amid a modest recovery remains the most likely outcome, but a sizable win in the event of a significantly accelerated recovery can’t be discounted (and nor can a sizable loss if the economy tanks again). All of which is to say that this election remains profoundly unpredictable.

Meanwhile, jobless claims remain at a four-year low; Steve Benen has it in chart form.

* Romney clarifies on Blunt amendment, supports it: He explains yesterday’s controversy over the interview with an Ohio reporter, in which he first seemed to oppose Blunt: “I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception, so I was simply — misunderstood the question, and of course I support the Blunt Amendment.”

Dems and the Santorum campaign are acusing Romney of a flip-flop, but that seems wrong; there’s no reason not to believe he did misunderstand the question.

* Digging deeper into Romney’s position on Blunt: Igor Volsky parses Romney’s latest response and argues that, in fact, Romney is stating opposition to what the Blunt amendment would actually accomplish in practice: Prevent people from getting contracption.

* U.S. Chamber of Commerce taking heat for anti-Dem ads: An interesting pattern: In the hard fought Montana and Virgina Senate races — which may be key to control of the Senate — local chambers of commerce are distancing themselves from the false or negative ad campaigns the national Chamber of Commerce is bankrolling against Jon Tester and Tim Kaine.

Footnote: In 2010, the Chamber’s massive ad campaign attacking Dems in the states were widely debunked by independent fact checkers but passed under the national media radar; now the same is happening again.

* The Dems’ nightmare scenario, ctd.: Some interesting Web reaction to my piece yesterday on the possibility of the GOP doing away with the filibuster. Jamelle Bouie says Republicans wouldn’t hesitate to eliminate it, justifying it with the same “will of the people” argument they used to justify their own filibustering.

And Scott Lemieux argues that even if filibuster-elimination means GOP control of the White House and a simple-majority Senate, it will be a winner in the long run for progressives and American democracy.

* And gay Dems are rallying around Obama: An interesting National Memo piece on the way the gay donor base is using Super PACs to channel cash to Obama’s reelection campaign, suggesting that this core Dem consistency may remain enthusiastically behind him despite his slow “evolution” on gay marriage.

What else?