Naturally, both Democrats and his GOP rivals are targeting Mitt Romney with the dreaded "flip-flopper" tag since he was unequivocally in support of a state initiative that would strip collective bargaining rights from workers. But unlike a lot of typical political attacks this one actually has the chance to do him in.
Flip-flopper was a common charge leveled at John Kerry in 2004 and — next to the swift boating — may have been the biggest anchor around his neck. Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against" remark, while accurate, was an all-time classic of political double-speak. Ever since then it's become a standard attack against any politician who has ever changed their mind about anything.
Those "Washington as usual" tactics often fly over the heads of a lot of voters, but in Romney's case it might actually stick. His biggest weakness in the GOP primary is the perception that he's an inauthentic robot candidate, and his greatest challenge against President Obama (should he get that far) is that his number one policy idea is to repeal a law that was a carbon copy of his own promoted as a Governor. So even the slightest bit of wavering plays right into that hand and gives the unconvinced Republican faithful a reason to throw him overboard.
Playing to expectations — especially your opponents' — is rarely a good thing. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that a politician can never change their mind without being attacked as weak-willed. Perhaps Romney should try the opposite tactic: embrace it. Say that it's better to be inconsistent than inflexible and that a true leader knows that sometimes you have to change horse midstream. It would both subvert the conventional wisdom about him ("He's a fighter!") and give him cover to change his mind about almost anything. Imagine flip flopping as a political strength!
Of course, then he wouldn't be able to use that charge against anyone else. Then where would he be?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.