Yet there is an irony in the victory of Romney the centrist, Romney the traditionalist, Romney the moderate Republican. The irony is that he finds himself face to face with a man who has the best claim to represent moderate centrist Republicanism of any president in living memory. If, indeed, it is still fair to call Obama a moderate. He has shown himself, after all, more bellicose in foreign policy than Eisenhower; more chummy with Wall Street than Nixon, no less friendly to the abuse of human rights than anyone in the Republican list. Romney's attempt at demonizing had better be good; otherwise he is left with a puzzle: how do you out-center a centrist. How, in short, do you repudiate a president whose showpiece achievement is an idea he nicked from you?
There is one possible game-changer approach here and while I don't really expect Romney to take it, I recognize that he's enough of a flexitarian he might at least be willing to give it some thought. That would be: outflank him to the left. Forget about the Paul and the Santorum-Bachmann-Perry-Caine-whoever voters: they'll mostly come around and come through when you need them. No: make your pitch to the middle by arguing that you are actually more liberal than the man who has done so much to abandon his own base. Make a gesture. Promise to close Guantanamo. Threaten a millionaire tax. At any rate, you'll need to do something, anything to show that you are distinguishable from the other guy or you really aren't giving voters any reason for your presence.
Indeed, let me turn the whole point around and frame it in the way of a question; the kind you might expect from, say, a primary voter in New Hampshire. Something like:
Mr. Romney, you are presenting yourself as the moderate, centrist candidate in contradistinction from the excitable ones in your own party, and from the cauldron of seething leftism you present as your opponent. But you know as well well as we all know that the Republican Obama is no more than microscopically different from yourself on the issues that count. So my question for you, sir, is: can you identify any way or ways in which you as present will govern more "moderately" than the Republican Obama is already governing? On economics, for example? On foreign policy? On health care?Of course, Romney's answer might be, "No, no, you have me all wrong! I fully intend to abolish social security, to embark on an ill-conceived and costly war, to abolish at least six amendments along with all but three government departments. Different? Sonny, you don't begin to know what 'different' really is." Now, that would be a campaign....
If your answer is "no"--if you cannot offer such examples, then why should we vote for you? Isn't the devil you know always better than the devil you do not know and are we not better advised, then, to stick with the incumbent rather than to grasp at something new and untried?