In the words of the British moral philosopher David St. Hubbins, it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever. And in the line Mitt Romney’s campaign is giving to Politico and other outlets, I think they’re coming down in the former category.
According to Mitt advisors, one of their key hits against Gingrich will be that he’s a flip-flopper. And this won’t just hurt Newt, apparently, it will also serve to inoculate Romney from charges that he’s a flip-flopper.
Did you hear that? Pushing the flip-flopper issue against Gingrich will help Romney? There are plenty of ways to hit Newt and by any reasonable measure he’s a very vulnerable candidate. But for Mitt Romney to push the idea that Newt’s a flip-flopper seems wildly nuts — one of those over-clever ideas that political operatives are spinning out to reporters all the time but usually wise-up before actually trying.
Yes, Newt’s changed positions on some issues — less because he’s actually changed positions as because he always wants to be the smart guy so often he’ll just make up his positions as he goes — as he did, famously, on Libya.
But does anyone really doubt that Newt’s a really conservative guy and that that’s been pretty consistently the case for about 35 years? Of course not. And can you really name a big issue where you can say he’s flip-flopped? Arguably you might say he did on health care mandates. But that’s not really fertile ground for Romney, is it?
But, has Newt really shifted around a lot on taxes? How about abortion? What about gay rights? What about guns? Really, what about anything (with the exception of health care mandates, which most conservatives changed positions on) substantial?
It’s true that there are lots of little things here and there where Newt’s contradicted himself. But the real issue with flip-flopping for Romney is the big picture. He was kind of conservative. But then he had to run for office in Massachusetts. So he became a liberal Republican. Then he needed to run for President — so he got conservative. Then he wanted to run for president again and he got a lot more conservative.
That’s pretty damaging if you’re a conservative ideologue. It’s damaging in a different way if you’re a swing voter.
But does anyone think anything remotely like this is true of Newt? Of course not.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.