Barring some shocking event (as Peter Suderman put it, like the Mayan Apocalypse), it’s hard to imagine any way in which Mitt Romney is not the Republican presidential nominee. Clinching the nomination would mean (for now) that he’s overcome criticism of the series of reversals he’s made on major policy matters. But the flip-flopping charge is likely to cause him a lot more problems in a general election.
During a primary, there’s a certain political balancing act to flip-flopping. On the one hand, changing positions makes a candidate seem inauthentic, but on the other hand, people like it when you agree with them. As it applies to Romney and conservatives, the debate has been between those who see his numerous reversals as evidence that he isn’t truly a conservative, and his supporters, who tout the fact that his current rhetoric is conservative. During the primary season, for instance, some pro-life conservatives have remained suspicious that he’s really one of them, whereas others have argued that opponents of abortion should welcome converts.
But should he be become the nominee, Romney will have to earn the votes of a lot of people who don’t necessarily agree with him. So he’ll essentially get all of the political downside of being a flip-flopper with none of the offsetting benefits. Pro-choice independents, will not only be turned off by his flip flops, but they won’t be happy that he’s now pro-life. So it kind of becomes a double whammy.O
On top of this, he'll have less leeway to shift positions during the general election than typical nominees, because even the slightest change would reinforce the charge.
Ultimately, like everything else, the outcome of the election will likely depend on how the economy is doing. And if it’s bad enough, voters will be more willing to take a chance on Romney. But nobody should underestimate how problematic the flip-flopper label will be to a broader electorate.