This might be a different presidential campaign if Mitt Romney's spokesmen weren't so often clarifying things their candidate has said. If only Romney were allowed to say things in interviews without his staff correcting them, as they did when Romney said he'd keep some parts of Obamacare Sunday, pundits would not be talking about how Romney is still working to "shore up his base" but about his move to the center for the general election. (Some conservatives think Romney has the opposite problem -- he's too Democrat Lite.) But let's play "what if" for a moment: What if all those clarifications never happened? What if, after tacking to the right in the primary, Romney did what George W. Bush did before him and tack back to the center for the general? Indeed, one way he did that in his re-election campaign was by giving Romney and other then-moderates prime speaking spots at the 2004 convention; as the Boston Globe reported then, "Massachusetts Republicans with moderate positions on most social issues, Romney and [Lt. Gov. Kerry] Healey also fit into the moderate tone that the Bush campaign wants to project for its convention."
Tacking to the center was what many people expected Romney to do, too, only a few months ago. His own adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, admitted as much when he compared the campaign to an Etch-A-Sketch. In the uproar that ensued, National Journal's Jim O'Sullivan noted "that a freshly nominated candidate... would tack to the center.... is a hardly a novel political strategy for the general election." In December, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating said despite Newt Gingrich and Romney taking conservative positions in the debates, "Both of them could tack center-right." In March, BuzzFeed's Ben Smith said on CNN that Romney "would like to tack to the center... His advisers are saying, you know what, this thing is over; we're inevitable. And for the same reason that we're weak among Republicans, the independents are going to love us." In April, Obama's linking of Romney to Paul Ryan's budget made "it tougher for Mr. Romney to tack to the center once he gets past the primaries," The New York Times said. A moderate Mitt in the general was a given. We indulged in some counterfactual history and wondered what the race would have been like so far if he had done so. Here's a guide to the Romney campaign that could have been before all of the clarifications.