The Republican primary contest may be over, but the Obama campaign served notice yesterday that it intends to let no one forget the professions of ultra-conservative faith that have helped make Mitt Romney the president’s all-but-certain opponent in November.
Less than 24 hours after the withdrawal of Rick Santorum, Mr Romney’s last realistic rival for the nomination, team Obama issued a withering attack ad, in effect a two-minute collage of what Democrats might call ‘Mitt’s Greatest Lines.’
“Memories to Last a Lifetime,” it is entitled. “Unforgettable Moments from an Unforgettable Campaign” – and all of them moments Mr Obama’s strategists believe will prove that the former Massachusetts Governor is a callous conservative, a rich man out to make the rich richer and out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.
The featured “moments” include many of Mr Romney’s statements that made headlines during the bruising primary season, as the candidate desperately sought to assure sceptical Tea Party supporters and social conservatives that he was one of them.
They range from his “corporations are people, my friends” remark, to his confession that he enjoyed “firing people who provide services to me”, his hostility to the rescue of the car industry during the financial crisis, and his insistence that the cure for the foreclosure crisis in the housing market was to “let it run the course, hit the bottom.”
Also featured are Mr Romney’s efforts to prove himself a social conservative. He is shown urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion, and declaring his belief that life begins at conception. As for immigration, another litmus issue for the right, there is a clip of Mr Romney vowing to veto any bill that would allow some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
This pre-emptive strike from the Obama camp not only underlines how, for all intents and purposes, the general election campaign has already begun, but it strikes to the core of the dilemma Mr Romney faces as he switches gears for a contest in which he must broaden his appeal to win over independent and moderate voters.
Simultaneously, Mr Romney must retain the faith of his party’s conservative wing, crucial for energising the base and getting out the vote, while persuading potential swing voters that he is a pragmatic moderate at heart. Most presidential nominees move towards the centre once the primaries are won, but for Mr Romney, an awkward campaigner at the best of times, the task will be especially tricky.
Last month, Eric Fehrnstrom, one of his top aides, caused a furore with his now notorious ‘Etch a Sketch’ remark, apparently suggesting that his candidate would wipe the slate clean of the “severely conservative” Governor of Massachusetts (as Mr Romney famously described himself) and portray himself as a man of the people.
To square the circle, Mr Romney is likely to focus his fire on Mr Obama and his economic record, presenting himself as a competent manager whose policies will create jobs. One thing is clear however, as Mr Obama’s new video broadside underlines: in Campaign 2012, no holds will be barred.