Rush Limbaugh's latest criticism of Mitt Romney is representative of a much larger problem plaguing the candidate: Romney's trying desperately to pander to his party's far-right, unhinged base, alienating everyone else in the process, but he's still not connecting.
It was just last month when the former governor formally unveiled his campaign's tax plan, which was an awful, Robin-Hood-in-reverse sort of scheme. It lavished generous tax breaks on the very wealthy, while actually raising taxes on the working poor, all while making Bush's failed tax policies permanent.
The right was unimpressed, dismissing Romney's proposals as "timid." So, in a cringe-worthy display of cowardice, Romney threw out his month-old tax plan and replaced it with an even-more-conservative agenda. Maybe this would make the GOP base happy?
Apparently not. Romney, in unveiling his Tax Plan, Take Two, mentioned in passing he wants to make "sure the top 1% keeps paying, paying the current share they're paying or more." And this led to a stern condemnation from the de facto Republican leader, Rush Limbaugh.
"It accepts this 'one percent/ ninety-nine percent' premise that Obama has put forward in his class envy scheme," Limbaugh thundered. "But apparently Romney's advisers think that there is ground to be gained with the ninety-nine percent by portraying himself as being on their side and against the one percent," he continued.
With crushing kindness, Limbaugh did concede that he could see some tactical advantage in Romney's words. "In this climate with Occupy out there," Limbaugh intoned, "he does want to avoid at all costs the allegation sticking that he's a rich guy favoring the rich."
And so, Limbaugh concluded, Romney's "advisers" had decided that their apparently pliable candidate must "let it be known that the one percent are not going to be allowed to get away with anything, even under a Romney regime."
The irony, of course, is that Romney's tax plan is a far-right fantasy, that his campaign can't even talk about in detail with a straight face, because the numbers don't add up. Romney doesn't want to make the very wealthy pay their fair share; he wants to give them yet another massive tax cut, which he can't possibly pay for.
For Limbaugh and many other conservatives, that's not good enough. Romney needs a far-right agenda and he needs to use the appropriate rhetoric to defend that far-right agenda. Given that Romney occasionally forgets his own party's economic orthodoxy, this is obviously a problem.
But the larger issue is the bind Romney finds himself in. He keeps moving further to the right, in the hopes of winning the Republican nomination, but keeps struggling to overcome the doubts and mistrust from the same people he's so eager to impress.
Romney's alienating the mainstream with his policies, while alienating the right with his occasional, accidental, and arguably insincere candor.