With Rick Santorum out of the way, Mitt Romney will finally have his Etch A Sketch moment. He will need to clear the screen quickly of just about anything he said in the primary season to pacify the Tea Partyers and the social conservatives so he can reach the moderate independent voters that he needs in the fall.
But it shouldn't be a problem for the former governor of Massachusetts to change his positions because he has done it often enough before. Romney was a liberal when he ran for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy, a moderate when he was governor, and a conservative after he decided to run for president. We soon will see moderate Mitt again as he moves to the center to win "Indy" voters. A Romney position is like the New England weather. If you don't like it, just wait 15 minutes for it to change.
These are the things to watch for in the coming weeks.
Expect Mitt Romney to use this phrase over and over again: "What I really meant by that was ..." Romney has a lot of explaining to do to independent voters after taking extreme positions to beat off Rick Santorum and the other real conservatives in the GOP presidential primary. For example he will have to explain to independent women what he meant when he said, "Planned Parenthood—we're gonna rid of that." Every year, Planned Parenthood does breast cancer screening exams for tens of thousands of women. What happens to them if Romney gets his way and gets rid of the organization? Who will perform the exams? Ron Paul? Inquiring minds want to know.
And while he is explaining his statement on Planned Parenthood, he might want to address his support for the referendum in Mississippi that would have banned virtually all abortions in the Magnolia State even in cases of rape and incest. The proposal crashed and burned in one of the most conservative states in the union. So you can imagine how poisonous Romney's endorsement of the measure will be to the suburban independent women who are the key to winning battleground states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Not a problem for Mitt though. He has the flexibility of a person who has been doing yoga for years.
You should also expect another in the long line of explanations from Romney about why Obamacare really isn't the son of Romneycare. Back in the day when he was a liberal, Romney said he hoped his healthcare reform program would be a model for the nation. He should have been more cautious about what he wished for. Romney will also have to explain how the mandate to purchase healthcare in the Affordable Care Act is different from the mandatory purchase requirement in his Massachusetts plan? If the mandate in Obamacare is an assault on personal freedom, isn't the mandate in Romneycare also an attack on personal choice in the same way. Good luck explaining that one Mitt.
Another thing you will see soon is conservative sniping at Romney as he goes back into to his Massachusetts moderate mode. Wednesday Rush Limbaugh said that the inevitability of Romney's nomination had "saddened and disappointed" conservatives. You'll hear a lot of that kind of whining in the next few weeks as Romney moves more and more to the middle.
Republican strategist Mike Murphy said, "Watching Mitt Romney try to connect with the Tea Party is like watching the Queen of England eat a chili cheese hot dog." One of the great ironies of the presidential campaign so far is that the Tea Party started as a protest against the federal bailout of the banksters. Now the Tea Party is struck with a candidate who is a creature of Wall Street and who supported TARP. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.
And what about Rick Santorum? Does the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania still think that Romney is a "pale imitation" of the incumbent president? I can hardly wait to find out the answer to this and the other questions.