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Daily Deadline: The Return of Multiple Choice Mitt

[with contributions from Matt O'Brien and Darius Tahir]

Another busy news day with no shortage of issues to cover: New figures on the economy, an initiative on student loans from the administration, and suggestions that the Affordable Care Act imposes a marriage penalty.

The law does that, in a sense, although there are reasons why – and, more important, reasons why it’s not the problem it seems. But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about that. I’m still preoccupied with reporting a feature.

But I do want to say something more about Mitt Romney. I have no idea what he really thinks about the Ohio anti-union initiative – or whether his failure to back it explicitly, when first asked earlier this week, was just a campaign management snafu. But authenticity is a real issue for Romney. In fact, it has been for almost his entire political career.

Remember, the image of Romney as a flip-flopper didn’t begin with this campaign or even the last one. It goes back to 1994, when he first ran for public office in Massachusetts by challenging Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate. Romney was running in the bluest of blue states – and he positioned himself accordingly, as I noted in a profile from 2008:

Substantively speaking, Mitt's campaign in 1994 closely resembled the runs George made in the '60s. While he had clearly identified himself as a Republican by this point, he did not position himself as an ideologue. He attacked Kennedy by making him a proxy for wasteful spending and various episodes of Democratic Party corruption. "I think it's important to have people who can and will be able to challenge the country on ethics and principles," Romney said in his announcement speech. But he did not propose an all-out assault on the welfare state. Although personally opposed to abortion, Romney said it should be legal, recalling how a close family friend had died from an illegal abortion. He even reached out to groups representing gay voters, touting his support for domestic partnership rights and echoing his father's words from 1964. When the local gay newspaper, Bay Windows, asked Romney about Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson, he replied, "I think that extremists who would force their views on the party and try to shape the party are making a mistake."

You may recall that 1994 was a rough year for Democrats, much like 2010 was. But Kennedy managed to hold the seat, in part by attacking Romney’s authenticity. Probably the most memorable, and devastating, line was a description of Romney’s apparent flip-flopping on abortion: “He's not pro-choice, he's not anti-choice, he's multiple choice.” You can see a version Kennedy’s statement in the clip above, which is from one of the 1994 debates.

As it happens, that clip is also a reminder of how dramatically Romney’s position on abortion has changed. Note that his defense of abortion rights is strong and unambiguous. He is personally opposed to abortion, he says, but he believes it is wrong to impose that belief on others:

I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time since my mom took that position when she ran in 1970, as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should sustain and support it. And I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice.

Back in August, Steve Kornacki wrote a whole story for Salon about Romney’s evolving position on the issue. It's worth checking out.

As readers know, I have long thought Romney would capture the Republican nomination. I still do. I also think he’s the most qualified among the leading Republican candidates – and that it’s not even a close call.

But I suspect the image of “Multiple Choice Mitt” is about to become a serious problem for him again – not just in the primaries, but also in the general election, assuming he gets that far. And that's as it should be.


Is the GOP brand dead? David Frum thinks so.

How credible are Rick Perry's revenue estimates for his flat tax? Matt Rognlie will give you one guess.

Speaking of Massachusetts: Scott Brown must be getting more nervous by the day.

Yes We Can: Make student loan debt a bit less onerous. From Mike Konczal.

Haven’t we been here before? Brent Cox of The Awl compares Occupy Wall Street to the Bonus Army of the Great Depression.

Head banging animal revelation: How woodpeckers avoid head injury.

Video dedication of the day: Katy Perry, going out to Multiple Choice Mitt: 

Katy Perry - Hot n Coldby vjarmanisuits