Scott Galupo writes:
The bigger question is whether Romney’s pivot toward the center occurred too late to rescue him.
A more important question is whether the “pivot toward the center” is as meaningful as it appears. For instance, Romney has now repudiated his 47% comments after trying to justify them in recent weeks, which has been interpreted as a move towards “the center.” However, since those comments were themselves the product of deeply misguided movement conservative activists’ preoccupation with the “problem” of people who don’t pay income tax, it doesn’t follow that rejecting them is proof of “moderation” or “centrism” as such. It is simply proof that Romney isn’t going to be weighted down by an incredibly stupid talking point that reasonably well-informed conservatives already considered to be false, counterproductive, and embarrassing. One might as well refer to it as a pivot towards evidence and away from fantasy. Rejecting nonsense doesn’t imply anything about one’s ideological leanings.
As Scott has noted before, the Romney campaign prior to this week had not been running a campaign that drew sharp ideological contrasts, but had been presenting itself as the enemy of sequestration on military spending and a defender of the Medicare status quo for current beneficiaries. To the extent that they were attacking Obama on Medicare, Romney and Ryan were doing so by demagoguing changes to Medicare as a “raid” on the program. All things considered, this was a rather dull, uninspired “centrist” campaign theme, but it was one that tried to take advantage to the anti-ACA sentiment among one of their core constituencies. Romney has maintained for some time that he would want to keep the popular parts of the ACA while repealing the rest, which is how he has tried to satisfy his pro-repeal core voters without appearing to be too ideological in his opposition to the bill. This is a somewhat cynical position to take, but it is one that Romney held long before the debate.
So how was Romney more of a “moderate” on Wednesday than he was in August and early September? To the extent that he changed his tone this week, Romney may come across as less obnoxious than he often does, but that doesn’t mean that he has become more “moderate” in his positions. It may mean that he is trying to avoid accountability for the positions he has taken in the past, but that’s something else entirely. If a change in tone is all that is required for Romney to be credited for moving to “the center,” this is a reminder that many political observers often base their definition of “moderation” on style and posturing rather than the content of the positions being taken.