Democrats test negative portrayal of Romney as hostage to GOP’s far right wing

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

Some of President Barack Obama’s supporters are testing a new campaign-trail portrayal of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as a weak-willed politician held hostage by extremists.

The “hostage Mitt” portrayal was pitched May 23 by Joe Solmonese, the outgoing president of the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for increased legal rights for gays.

“I’m never really completely clear about his convictions, but I know he is very much open to the people around him, and would be obligated, I think, to the people he felt put him there,” Solmonese said in press conference arranged by the Obama campaign.

That portrayal clashes with the Obama campaign’s parallel effort to paint Romney as a ruthless corporate vulture perched atop the Bain Capital eyrie in Boston. The “vulture Mitt” portrayal, however, has lost altitude as business-friendly Democrats began criticizing the Obama campaign’s broad-brush negative portrayal of the investment sector.

The vulture depiction supplanted Democrats’ earlier efforts to paint Romney as a weird, out-of-touch plutocrat who once strapped a dog to the top of his car. But the Obama camp abandoned casting his opponent as “weird Mitt” by February — once Romney clinched the GOP’s primary race — in favor of an effort to portray him instead as an insincere “say anything” panderer who flip-flops to please each new constituency.

Rebranding Romney as “weird” through the dog tale, however, also lost steam after The Daily Caller sparked a social media furor by publicizing Obama’s acknowledgment that he ate dog meat while he was a child in Indonesia. The unapologetic statement came in his 1995 autobiographical volume “Dreams from My Father,” and in his 2005 audio version of the same book.

The Romney camp seems poised to capitalize on the revolving buffet of anti-Romney narratives.

“The president and his supporters are so desperate to avoid a discussion about his economic record … that they’re throwing every dishonest attack they can think of,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told The Daily Caller.

Williams argued that those quick-shifting attacks “are backfiring and embarrassing the president.”

Romney’s campaign and supporters portray him as a decisive leader whose careers in business and government have readied him to help revitalize the nation’s stalled economy. They’re having some success: A number of polls show Romney outpacing Obama’s sub-50 percent rating in many swing states.

The “hostage Mitt” frame suggested by Joe Solmonese is not unique: It matches a May 21 portrayal of Romney by Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist.

The likely GOP presidential candidates, Cohen wrote, “has been clay in the hands of the political right, and this will not change. … Weakness is his one consistency.”

There’s little evidence to support that assessment, however, partly because Romney won the GOP nomination by barraging his more socially conservative opponents with negative ads.

At the time, Democrats described Romney’s aggressive strategy as evidence that he was extreme, ruthless and insincere — not that he was a hostage to conservatives.

“The more voters learn about Romney’s extreme, out-of-touch positions, the less they like him or trust him to lead,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on Jan. 31. “Romney will say anything, take any position, and will distort any fact about his or his opponents’ record to win.”

The “hostage Mitt” attack also clashes with conservatives’ cautious support for Romney.

They’re cautious because many libertarians and social conservatives suspect that Romney is really a government-growing progressive technocrat, despite his socially conservative personal life and statements.

That ideological suspicion has prompted many conservatives to call for continued pressure on Romney, especially if he wins the November election.

Democrats’ allegations that extremists on the right would hold a Romney presidency hostage, however, are supported by at least one prominent GOP figure: Fred Karger, a gay Republican who is on the presidential primary ballots in California and Utah.

By backing a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a one woman, one man institution, Karger told TheDC, Romney “capitulates” and “caves into pressure from the far right.”

Romney’s marriage policy, though, is mainstream and has already been bolstered by ballot victories in 30 states, including a decisive victory this month in North Carolina.

Karger has released a video portraying Romney as Pee Wee Herman — a high-voiced weakling from a 1980s kids’ show — and calling him “weak and indecisive.”

The video focused on Romney’s inaction when Richard Grenell, an outspoken advocate of single-sex marriage, stepped back from a job with Romney’s campaign amid criticism from social conservatives.  The video questioned how Romney would have the courage to stand up to foreign despots if he did not fight back against criticism from inside his own party.

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