Team Romney got a gift yesterday from Jimmy Carter, of all people. Asked by MSNBC's Chris Jansing whether he’d be comfortable with Romney in the Oval Office, here’s what the former Democratic president said:
I’d rather have a Democrat. But I would be comfortable. I think Romney has shown in the past, in his previous years as a moderate, a progressive, that he was fairly competent as a governor and also running the Olympics, as you know. He’s a good solid family man and so forth. He’s gone to the extreme rightwing positions on some very important issues in order to get the nomination. What he’ll do in the general election and what he’ll do as president I think is difficult [to predict].
It’s not a ringing endorsement, but it certainly undercuts the Obama campaign’s effort to portray Romney as a radical conservative.
“I think that was very telling,” Joe Scarborough said on Morning Joe Thursday. “You’ve got a Democratic former president, a man who always occupied the center of American politics, coming out and saying he would not be horrified if Mitt Romney were president of the United States.”
Time’s Mark Halperin agreed that Carter’s comments were a boon to the Romney team. “Jimmy Carter saying he’s acceptable – it doesn’t have a wide constituency necessarily, but it does go to a wider theme that a lot of Democrats as they meet Romney for the first time might agree with, that he’s acceptable,” said Halperin. “And that is his path to victory if he has one.
President Obama, of course, disagrees. Here’s what he told Rolling Stone in a recent interview:
You have a Republican Party, and a presumptive Republican nominee, that believes in drastically rolling back environmental regulations, that believes in drastically rolling back collective-bargaining rights, that believes in an approach to deficit reduction in which taxes are cut further for the wealthiest Americans, and spending cuts are entirely borne by things like education or basic research or care for the vulnerable.
"I don't think that their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, 'Everything I've said for the last six months, I didn't mean,' " Obama added. "I'm assuming that he meant it. When you're running for president, people are paying attention to what you're saying."
Scarborough argued – as he has before – that the Obama campaign’s push to portray Romney as a right-wing zealot won’t work.
“This is a losing strategy for the Obama team,” Scarborough said. “They have it completely wrong here, because Americans know Mitt Romney is not a radical, he is not a right-wing nut. He is a flip-flopper. He is a moderate. He is a guy who has adjusted his positions based on the political realities in front of him.”
But Mika Brzezinski wasn’t so sure.
“Because there is that in his record, can’t you then paint him as exactly symbolic of what this Republican Party has begun to really look like over the past few years?” she asked. “Because you don’t know what he stands for, because he hasn’t really said anything in terms of how he would lay out a budget. Because he has leaned on others for his positions. Because he doesn’t appear to have any of his own. Doesn’t that leave him open and perhaps even vulnerable to be painted as anything?”
And, she might have added, who’s to say that the “political realities” a President Romney would face dictate that he govern as a moderate? Given the extreme conservative positions Romney had to adopt to win the Republican nomination, and the lock that conservative interests have on the party, he’d likely have less room to maneuver to the center as president than he does now as a candidate – especially because conservative GOP voters would have formed the base of his winning coalition.
The reality in 2012 is that any president elected as a Republican is going to end up governing as a Republican. And that means sometimes taking some pretty extreme positions.