Throughout Mitt Romney's hard slog toward becoming the Republican nominee, one criticism pursued him wherever he went and was equally vociferous on both sides of the political spectrum. The issue, of course, was over Mitt Romney's propensity to mold his views to fit whatever audience or electorate he was facing, otherwise known as flip-flopping.
Hard-line conservatives despaired at Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts and resented the way he was suddenly appearing to show very conservative principles on topics such as abortion when there were reams of interviews and statements directly contradicting what he was purporting to now believe.
Liberals and much of the mainstream media saw an open goal and a heavy amount of hypocrisy. They also latched on to the fact that it was conservatives who had initially launched the attacks on Romney therefore, covering them from accusations of bias. They were simply reporting on the attacks by conservatives and there's nothing the mainstream media loves more than Republicans attacking their own.
It seems conservatives were willing to ignore Ronald Reagan's golden rule -- thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican -- as they could not stomach this so-called Massachusetts moderate becoming the nominee. Of course even Reagan didn't stick to this principle throughout his career, as Gerald Ford would attest.
While Romney's flip-flopping provided plenty of ammunition to the media and his primary opponents it also had the effect of painting Romney as a politician not wedded to any particular political ideology. Voters could see this was a man who assessed the situations and jobs he was in and was able to mould his positions to fashion the best outcomes possible.
A good example of this was the 2006 health care legislation he brought in whilst governor of Massachusetts. At the time it was widely praised across the country by commentators as a model that could be used as a template for a federal system of healthcare insurance. Indeed Obama and his team clearly took notice and incorporated many of its aspects into the health care bill that passed through Congress in 2009.
This link between the two bills could clearly not have been predicted by Romney when he passed his legislation but it subsequently became a major headache when repealing Obamacare became a central plank of Republican policy. He was repeatedly hammered by his opponents and harangued by the media to explain how he could support his own bill but not the president's. His answer was simple, but in the end effective -- just because something works at state level doesn't mean it should be implemented federally.
This is a logical reasoned argument that most people can accept. Whether they agree with his stance on health care is another issue, but the idea that his position is the height of hypocrisy and that it shows his inherent weakness as a leader just doesn't hold up.
The malleability of his positions can be highlighted as a strength in fact. Washington politics is deeply divided and compromise has become the dirty word of politics, especially within conservative circles. It seems Congress can only hear the shrill voices on the edges of the parties, as its approval rating has been consistently under 20 percent for the last two years. This shows the electorate does not want more ideology and dogma in Washington but people who will get things done in a sensible pragmatic way even if that means you have adapt long held policy positions.
As Chris Christie has said, there is a wide boulevard in between getting all you want and compromising your principles. Romney has shown he understands how to adapt when faced with a hostile legislature and this is one area where Obama has been especially ineffective. There are valid arguments to be made that the Republican Congress has been overly intransigent but a president must lead and he failed spectacularly to do this when he handed over the health care bill to Congress.
The No. 1 issue that will decide the election in November is the economy, as it almost always is. The American electorate is not looking for an ideology to follow but just simply a solution to the mess the country's in. Romney, due to his altering views, has allowed an image to grow of a politician with no concrete ideological beliefs and this could prove to be a major plus in the current climate.
Yes, Romney has had to pander to the hard right of the Republican party during the height of the primary battle but his folksy and slightly awkward manner didn't make him sound like an extreme fundamentalist such as Rick Santorum. His delivery and mannerisms give the impression that he is from another era and therefore detached from the modern vitriol that surrounds present day Washington.
This perception can become a plus as it taps into that influential emotion, nostalgia. Non-ideological voters who long for a time of low unemployment and pre 9/11 sanity will be drawn to this and could provide the key to Romney being able to create a large enough coalition to take him over the top come November.
Follow Robert Simpson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BobbySimpo