There is no doubt that the Republican presidential primary has been a slow implosion of the political right. Beltway common wisdom is that social conservatives hate Mitt Romney because of his seemingly inauthentic core values and repeated flip-flopping on virtually every issue, especially the all-important "culture wars." This weakness has led to the parade of not-ready-for-primetime fringe characters who have risen and just as quickly fallen, like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and now Rick Santorum. All have challenged Mitt Romney from the far right, leading to the myth of a "moderate Mitt."
Yet the weaknesses in Romney that have made him an easy target for challengers, his flip-flopping and malleability, are exactly what make him the most dangerous possible president in the race.
Romney very clearly changes his views on important issues depending on which way the political winds are blowing. His shifting stances can literally change the day, as we saw last week with his repudiation of the anti-contraception Blunt amendment, which he then said he supported less than an hour later. It's the latest in what has become a political career full of taking both sides of issues, from health-care mandates to women's rights to LGBT equality and many others. Romney says what he thinks will get him elected and what he thinks is the most popular view among the GOP.
And therein lies the danger of a malleable Mitt.
What does Romney really think and believe? It actually doesn't matter. He is shaped by the views of the Republican party around him; he doesn't lead as much as follow the loudest voices in his party. And the loudest GOP voices right now are perhaps the scariest they have been in generations.
While the American public has become more socially progressive, as seen in virtually every poll, the Republican base has shrunk to its most extreme, moving further right than ever before. That small, far-right core is what is driving the party's agenda. On both the national level and in the states where they have taken control, the GOP has pushed dangerous, severely conservative policies like restricting voting rights, stripping LGBT protections, and even forced vaginal probes for women who want abortions. While these policies may be taking the Republican Party off a cliff in the eyes of most Americans, the GOP continues to push regressive laws regardless of the political consequences.
These extreme voices in the Republican party are what would lead a President Mitt Romney if he was elected. Mitt is shaped by the views of his party. He has proven it time and again. His presidency wouldn't set an agenda; it would follow the extreme one set by the right-wing activists that have highjacked the political debate in recent years.
Romney has proven that whatever his core values are, they aren't strong enough to buck the rightward trend of his party. The mercurial, malleable Mitt would be a rubber stamp for dangerous, regressive policies put forward by a Republican Party that wants to drive America back generations and erase hard-won rights for many in our country.