Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

During the Republican primary Mitt Romney pitched himself to a skeptical GOP base as a "severely conservative" candidate, a sale he tried to close by selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate. But in his closing pitch to the general electorate, he promises to be a starkly different president than the one he presented to Republican voters.

In reconfiguring his image to soften his hard-edged positions from the primary, Romney's shifts have mostly involved subtle tweaks to his policy platform that complement his vastly changed rhetoric, aimed at selling himself as a peace-loving moderate who will unite the country.

Here are five changed stances that reflect Romney's evolution.

1) I Won't Cut Taxes For The Rich

While battling conservatives for his party's nomination, Romney unveiled a tax reform proposal built around lowering individual rates across the board by 20 percent. It would mean a tax cut for every American, he declared.

"We're going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent," Romney said during a GOP primary debate in February.

But in the general election, painted by President Obama as a candidate mainly interested in serving the wealthy, he introduced a new component: the rich won't actually get a tax cut because he'd close deductions and loopholes for high incomes.

"I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans," Romney said during the first debate with Obama, in Denver. In a subsequent debate, he said, "I'm not looking to cut taxes for wealthy people. I am looking to cut taxes for middle-income people."

2) 'Regulation Is Essential'

Central to Romney's pitch to Republican primary voters was that he would unshackle businesses from "crippling" over-regulation by the Obama administration.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform law, he said back in February, is "paralyzing lending to entrepreneurs, killing small banks, crippling small businesses, driving down the value of housing and creating corrupting Washington controls over the biggest banks."

This month, while debating Obama, he talked up the need for government regulations.

"Regulation is essential," he said. "You can't have a free market work if you don't have regulation. You couldn't have people opening up banks in their garage and giving loans. ... There's some parts of Dodd-Frank that make all the sense in the world."

3) Romneycare Shows My 'Empathy And Care'

Facing criticism from conservatives during primary season for enacting a law in Massachusetts that became the model for Obamacare, Romney worked to distance himself from Romneycare.

"It's not even perfect for Massachusetts," he told the Washington Examiner's Byron York last December. "At the time we created it, I vetoed several measures and said these, I think, are mistakes, and you in Massachusetts will find you have to correct them over time. ... But they have not made those changes, and in some cases they made things worse. So I wouldn't encourage any state to adopt it in total."

But last month, seeking to soften his image in the wake of his unearthed taped remarks deriding 47 percent of Americans, Romney spoke fondly of his signature legislative achievement during an interview with NBC News.

"Don't forget -- I got everybody in my state insured," he said. "One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don't think there's anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record."

4) I'll Uphold Obama's Relief For Illegal Immigrants

In January, Romney called for "self-deportation" for illegal immigrants, including those brought by their parents as children, which involves making life so difficult they choose to leave.

"The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here, because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here," he said.

Fast-forward to the general election. Facing a huge deficit among Hispanics, who support immigration relief, Romney no longer rails against "amnesty." And he promises not to rescind work permits that Obama plans to provide DREAM-eligible migrants via executive order.

"The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid," he told the Denver Post early this month. He also sought to put a lighter touch on his "self-deportation" remarks.

"Self-deportation says let people make their own choice. What I was saying is, we're not going to round up 12 million people, undocumented illegals, and take them out of the nation," Romney said while debating Obama. "Instead let people make their own choice. ... I'm not in favor of rounding up people and taking them out of this country."

5) Give Peace A Chance

Primary-era Romney fumed against Obama's "extraordinarily weak and timid" foreign policy.

"This is a president ... he says pretty please? A foreign policy based on pretty please? You've got to be kidding," he said during a GOP debate late last year, accusing Obama of trying to "appease or accommodate the tyrants of the world." He also promised to be more aggressive against Iran's nuclear ambitions: "If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon," he said. "If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."

But facing down the president in a debate about foreign policy last week, that tough-talking rhetoric dissipated entirely and Romney sounded more like a liberal peacenik.

"We want a peaceful planet," he said. "We want people to be able to enjoy their lives and know they're going to have a bright and prosperous future and not be at war. That's our purpose... We don't want another Iraq. We don't want another Afghanistan. That's not the right course for us."

Instead of promising to get tougher on Iran, he criticized Obama for not supporting the opposition protesters against the country's government more strongly.

The Republican nominee said America must stand up for "principles [that] include human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression, elections. Because when there are elections, people tend to vote for peace. They don't vote for war."

On the Sunday talk show circuit, Newt Gingrich defended Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana for his remarks about abortion and rape, referring to the controversy as "nonsense" and calling on President Obama's campaign to "get over it."

"If you listen to what Mourdock actually said, he said what virtually every Catholic and every fundamentalist in the country believes, life begins at conception," Gingrich said on ABC's "This Week." "Now, this seems to be fixated by the Democrats, but the radical on abortion is Obama, who as a state senator voted three times in favor of allowing doctors to kill babies in the eighth and ninth month who were born, having survived late-term abortion."

He was among several Romney surrogates to downplay the importance of Mourdock's remarks to the presidential race on Sunday.

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Appearing Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Newt Gingrich defended Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock over his controversial remarks that conception from rape can be "something that God intended to happen."

Gingrich's exchange with host George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Finally, Mr. Speaker, you heard Stephanie Cutter bring up this issue of Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, and saying that Governor Romney is wrong not to stand up to him and say his comments were wrong and to take down his ad endorsing him.  Your response? 

GINGRICH:  Well, my response is, if you listen to what Mourdock actually said, he said what virtually every Catholic and every fundamentalist in the country believes, life begins at conception.  Now, this seems to be fixated by the Democrats, but the radical on abortion is Obama, who as a state senator voted three times in favor of allowing doctors to kill babies in the eighth and ninth month who were born, having survived late-term abortion, and the Democratic Party platform, which says you should pay with your tax money for late-term abortion, something which is about a 20 percent issue, but doesn't seem to fascinate the press nearly as much as the Stephanie Cutter... 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  But, Mr. Speaker, what -- what Mr. Mourdock said exactly was that this life after rape, as horrible as it may be, is something that God intended to happen.  You agree with that? 

GINGRICH:  And he also immediately issued a clarification saying he was referring to the act of conception, and he condemned rape.  Romney has condemned -- I mean, one part of this is nonsense.  Every candidate I know, every decent American I know condemns rape.  OK, so why can't people like Stephanie Cutter get over it?  We all condemn rape.  Now let's talk about whether we also condemn killing babies in the eighth and ninth month.  

Appearing Sunday on ABC's "This Week" roundtable, George Will argued that the Obama campaign's push to label Mitt Romney a flip-flopper is playing into the Republican nominee's hands.

"Right now that charge is really an accusation that Romney can live with. Which is, don't believe him ... because you might like him," he said. "And I think people say, well look, our last impression of him ... is of something that we can live it. And so I think the Obama attack is buttressing the Romney tactic."

Appearing Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Newt Gingrich predicted that Mitt Romney will decisively win both the popular vote and the electoral college.

"I think it's very unlikely, as a historian ... he can win a significant popular victory vote and not carry the electoral college," he said.

"I think he's actually going to end up wining 53-47."

President Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter responded Sunday on ABC's "This Week" to the Des Moines Register's endorsement of Mitt Romney.

"They endorsed Mitt Romney in the primary, so this is not much of a surprise," she said. "It was a little surprising to read that editorial because it didn't seem to be based at all in reality. Not just in the president's record but in Mitt Romney's record."

She claimed Romney did not "reach across the aisle" as governor of Massachusetts and has "never once stood up to the far extreme right wing" of his base during his 2012 campaign.

"He's not willing to stand up when it matters, so the fact that he's going to bring people together -- work across the aisle -- is just nonsense."

President Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that the campaign is confident it will win Ohio, despite a new poll that showed the race tied.

"That's one poll. There've been several polls out this week, one including that showed us up 5 in Ohio. We feel pretty good about where we are on the ground there. In many cases we're beating Mitt Romney 3-1 in the early vote."

"We feel good about Ohio. We think we're going to win it."

On Fox News Sunday, Karl Rove said it's possible that we could have a situation where Mitt Romney wins the popular vote but loses the electoral vote on Election Day.

"We could, though I think it's a small chance," he said. "If the margin is as big nationally as it appears in these national polls, then you'll have the state polls follow.

The architect of George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 victories added, "We're endowing all these polls with a precision they don't have."

On Fox News Sunday, Karl Rove said there has been "very little movement" in the polls over the last week or so, signaling that Mitt Romney's surge after the first debate has waned.

"Right now we're at a point in the campaign where there's very little movement -- you know, sort of, the momentum was on Romney's side but -- the closer we get to the end, one of two scenarios happens," Rove said.

The Republican strategist and American Crossroads chief speculated that either there'll be "rapid movement in one candidate's direction" like in 1980 or "slow" movement toward Romney because "we're getting down to a very thin group of people left undecided."

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a Mitt Romney surrogate, said on Fox News Sunday that abortion does not register as an issue in voters' minds in Wisconsin.

"It's not even an issue here in Wisconsin. It doesn't even move the radar at all," he said, arguing that Wisconsinites are more concerned about what happened in Benghazi. "Abortion doesn't even show up."

Johnson said only "one person" had brought up the issue of abortion and rape to him.