With the primary season pandering finally behind them, the Republican Party in general and presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney in particular face an all but impossible balancing act: Being mindful of the interests of a party base that has evolved into a welter of angry Tea Partiers, self-righteous evangelicals and hard core right-wingers with nutty ideas while trying to court mainstream voters and independent women in particular who have shown little affinity for the GOP's social and economic platforms.
Some historic perspective here: Romney enters the post-primary campaign season with the weakest favorability rating on record for a presumptive presidential nominee in ABC News/Washington Post polls since 1984 and trails a resurgent Barack Obama in personal popularity by a whopping 21 percentage points in one poll. This on top of Romney's tepid showings in primaries last week despite the fact that Rick Santorum, his chief challenger, had stopped campaigning.
Other polls have Romney closer to the president and the occasional daily tracking poll shows him ahead by a nose, but none of them take into account his not-so-silent partner -- the House Republican caucus with its coddle the rich and screw everyone else mantra, and that will be an albatross around Romney's neck through to Election Day no matter how hard he flip-flops.
The crux of the balancing act is this: Can Romney appear moderate enough to attract the independents he needs to win without alienating the leaders of the House caucus, who in turn will be hectored by those rebellious freshmen who rode anti-Washington antipathy to victory in 2010? In other words, is Romney trapped by his base?
Put another way, does Romney really believe in what Nobel prize-winning economist and pundit Paul Krugman calls the confidence fairy. The confidence fairy rewards policy makers -- in this case House Republicans -- for their fiscal virtue, but in reality and as we know, the confidence fairy is a myth.
Romney has a further handicap that he has shown no sign of overcoming: Defensiveness over his immense wealth and an inability to break out of the bubble world of the super rich in which he and his wife live.
Had Romney and his advisers been more in tune with how many voters will view him, he would have pulled out funds invested in offshore havens like the Cayman Islands and Switzerland long before that became an issue, as well as put off a $12 million renovation to his La Jolla home, which includes a car elevator, so that didn't become an issue. And a head's up here: With the warmer weather will come May Day and the reincarnation of Occupy Wall Street. Romney will be squarely in their cross hairs.
Romney doesn't necessarily have to connect with average Joes and Janes to get elected, but in abandoning cultural and economic moderation in hearting the hardcore Republican Party line and surprisingly showing little sign of Etch A Sketching back toward the center, he is extremely vulnerable to attacks from Obama and his surrogates whether it's over something silly like his wife having two Cadillacs or more serious concerns like his support of the Paul Ryan budget plan.
Finally, beyond the balancing act is Romney's character.I'm with commentator Charles Blow when he say that he has no personal gripe with him: "I don't believe him to be an evil man. Quite the opposite: he appears to be a loving husband and father. Besides, evil requires conviction, which Romney lacks. But he is a dangerous man. Unprincipled ambition always is. Infinite malleability is its own vice because it’s infinitely corruptible by others of ignoble intentions."
There is perhaps no one better at unprincipled ambition in American politics than puppet master Karl Rove, who is back from the dead with a gadzillion dollar super PAC to bankroll Romney in his quest to assault American democracy in much the same way that Rove' star pupil George W. Bush did.