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Bill Clinton's advice for Team Obama: Will it work?

Lately, there’s been a shift in how Team Obama is portraying Mitt Romney, its all-but-certain Republican opponent in November. Rather than calling Romney a flip-flopper, the Obama campaign is instead warning that he’s a far-right conservative, who’s taken positions that are dangerously out of the mainstream.

The New York Times last week picked up on the new tack. And on Morning Joe Monday, Politico’s Mike Allen revealed one major driving force behind it: Bill Clinton.

Based partly on advice from the former president, Allen said, the Obama campaign is “trying to lock [Romney] in to those super-conservative positions he took during the primary, on the theory that it hurts him with women, [ and] makes it harder for him to get back to the middle to help with Hispanics.”

“Bill Clinton’s advice was: If he’s going to take these rightwing positions, let’s lock him in there -- that gives us a huge advantage,” said Allen.

Joe Scarborough wasn’t impressed by Clinton’s advice.

“Who believes that Mitt Romney’s a rightwing conservative?” Scarborough asked. “It might work against Santorum or Gingrich or somebody else. But Mitt Romney -- you know he’s not a rightwing conservative. He’s not really anything. He’s what you want him to be.”

But financier and regular Morning Joe panelist Steve Rattner wasn’t so quick to dismiss the strategy. “He’s in his heart of hearts a moderate,” Rattner said of Romney. “ But he’s now on the record with so many conservative positions that I think he’s going to have a hard time walking back from them.”

Indeed, what’s in Romney’s “heart of hearts”  -- even if it could ever be known with confidence – may not be too relevant. Given the current state of the GOP, no president elected as a Republican has much leeway to color outside of the lines of the party’s conservative orthodoxy – as the primaries showed. If Romney wants to be re-elected in 2016, or even to govern effectively for four years, he’ll have little flexibility to indulge his personal impulses, whatever they may be.