We all know that Mitt Romney has evolved/flip-flopped quite a bit throughout his political career.
That makes him tough to peg.
But Romney's opponents are starting to paint a contradictory picture of him that's confusing their strategy and undermining their core argument against him.
There are two pseudo-contradictions at work -- one personal, one ideological, and Democrats have presented Romney as different things on both.
a. Romney is an emotionless, wooden square whose definition of being wild and crazy is loosening a button on his suit.
b. He was actually wild and crazy and Lords-of-the-Flies-y as a highschooler, and it reveals a vicious streak.
We all know that 3-dimmensional portraits of candidates rarely emerge or stick during elections, and so only one of these competing images can stick.
Either Romney has a mean, vicious streak that's compelled him to do awful things, or he's the harmless, Mormon guy of Saturday Night Live routines.
In one sense, the Romney camp doesn't like the latter because it presents him as wooden and stiff, and so the campaign tries to humanize him, and Ann ends up talking about "wild and crazy" Mitt, or cuts an ad about the pranks he'd play on his kids growing up ("mischievous and naughty").
A few people smile (heartwarming) but most laugh (Seriously, you're trying to sell him as a mischief-maker?!!).
Why do people laugh? Because his alleged wild and craziness isn't consistent with who we've seen or are seeing. Dangerous Mitt doesn't square with anything we know about him now.
But then a Washington Post story comes out that he might have been wild and crazy and suddenly people start taking seriously the idea that he could be this vicious guy, even though it doesn't square with anything we've seen or known about him.
Yes, time has a maturing effect, and he could have been both things at different points in his life.
BUT... it's going to be tough for voters to accept Romney both as Wooden Square and Hell-boy.
My guess: Democrats will stop talking about how Romney is wooden and emotionless, and start talking about how he's vicious and mean.
The problem with that?
Mitt's already been fed to voters as a wooden square, and everything about him seems to verify that. His 3 million kids and grandkids, his clothes, his hair, his "Pete's sakes" his "Goshes" and the high school sweetheart thing.
It's going to be tough to turn that into Hell-Boy and Hell-Man.
If Democrats try, they'll most likely fail, and it could make voters extra suspicious of more serious and credible accusations.
In other words, accusing him of being a dangerous guy is dangerous for Democrats.
a. Romney is a flip-flopper who dreamed up ObamaCare and always takes the safest political route.
b. Romney is a strict conservative who bullied gay groups as governor of Massachusetts and wants to foist Paul Ryan's vision on America.
We all know that, at various points in his political career, Romney has portrayed himself as a "progressive" with loose attachment to the GOP and as someone who's "severely conservative".
That contradiction is entirely his fault.
But Democrats and partisans have been making their own contradictory claims this year -- first, that he's a flip-flopper who was close to Obama on a number of issues, and now, that he's an extremist who'd take America back to the '50's.
Suddenly, the guy who supposedly loved gay people and was too progressive for social conservatives tried bullying them every step of the way?
You can't accuse someone of both things at once, but that's what Democrats have done.
Now, the real question is: Which portrait of Romney will stick?
Probably, the moderate one. After all, during the primary, his Republican opponents incessantly called him a "Massachusetts moderate", "Obama-lite", and the godfather or father of ObamaCare.
Meanwhile, the DNC gladly put his name on ObamaCare genealogies, and were only too happy to dispute Romney's sudden "severely conservative" persona.
If there was one doubt about Romney in the primaries, it was that he wasn't conservative enough.
In fact, the Obama campaign was originally going to, above all, target his flip-floppy nature, but now is shifting and attacking him as an extremist and ideologue.
But here's where I think they're going to fail: Extremist, ideological politicians rarely flip-flop!
You can't paint William Wallace as both "Braveheart" and "Pragmatist Who Didn't Know What Side He Was On".
Convicted activists and extreme ideologues are defined by the fact they're convicted and extreme and don't flip-flop.
So, basically, Democrats are going to have to reshape the entire political image that's been with Romney since he ran for president in 2008, and they only have a few months to do it.
If they pull out RomneyCare to show that he's a flip-flopper on health care, it undercuts their argument that he's an extremist.
Likewise, if they argue that he's extreme, it undercuts their argument that he's a flip-flopper.
The upshot: Democrats are trying to arrive at a consistent image of Romney and have painted bad contradictions, up until this point.
My guess is that they'll resolve this untenable contradiction by choosing "b" and "b" -- that he's a vicious guy who's also ideologically extreme.
But that's a very dangerous tact because it's thinly-supported and doesn't even pass the smell test.
Romney, the Mormon square of Saturday Night Live and that amazing family.... is vicious?
Romney, that ObamaCare guy who used to be governor of Massachusetts..... is extreme?
Democrats would be much smarter to go with "a" and "a", instead -- that Romney is a wooden stiff who flip-flops. After all, that's how W. beat Kerry in 2004. At least there's some history suggesting it works. The icing on the cake?
It's probably a much more accurate description that, ultimately, passes the smell test for voters.