While Mitt Romney has locked up the Republican presidential nomination, significant parts of the party base still view him with reserve, as not a “tried and tested conservative.”
The phrase, from California blogger Jon Fleischman, seems somewhat out of sync with what opinion polls have been showing nationally: that the national race is close, in large part because voters are leaving the undecided columns for their traditional party allegiances.
A characteristic of politics in this country over elections since the 2000 race — in which Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College — is a strong division between the parties, with relatively few people really undecided.
Over the couple of weeks that Romney has nailed down a majority of GOP convention delegates, the former Massachusetts governor has been able to garner the approval of the vast bulk of Republican-leaning voters in national polls. Not unexpectedly, President Barack Obama does the same with Democrats.
This year’s race thus far resembles the 2000 or 2004 races rather than 2008, when independents broke heavily for Obama.
Will that parallel hold true as the Obama campaign increases its attacks on Romney as holding extreme views?
The famous gaffe by a Romney aide about an Etch-a-Sketch move by Romney to the political center makes Fleischman’s comment more reasonable: Will conservatives, despite their opposition to Obama, be excited about a Romney who decides to moderate his positions as the November election nears? It’s not clear that he will, of course.
We would argue that Romney has taken some politically inadvisable stands, such as on immigration policy, to enhance his appeal to conservatives. But overall, Romney’s image is not that of an Arizona sheriff anxious to bust heads of illegals.
Moderation in tone, even if not in the letter of the policy, might well make Romney more electable nationally without disturbing those in the party’s base.