Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Romney

The Republican candidate panders to the NAACP, then insults black voters.

Eric Kayne/Getty Images
Eric Kayne/Getty Images

(The Root) — Mitt Romney has elevated the tactics of pandering, flip-flopping and endless reinvention to a level of high art — or vaudeville.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has long been accused of lacking “core” values. This assessment of Romney’s dubious character has come from those on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Obama political adviser David Axelrod told CBS News in March: “There is a sense there is no core to him.”

Republican Jon Huntsman concurred: “When you combine a record of uncertainty — running first [for] senator as a liberal, governor as a moderate, then as a conservative for the presidency — people wonder where your core is.”

And after a relatively well-received speech on Wednesday to the NAACP, Romney proved what we already knew: The mirror has two faces. The former Massachusetts governor started by pandering only slightly, complimenting the organ music and appearing to identify with the soulful sounds. His demeanor appeared humble as he thanked the leaders and audience for their reception. The speech included quotes and references to the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass and former NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks.

Romney made a bold proclamation: “If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you’re looking at him.” Comments like that were met with booing and were seen by many in the audience as a slight to President Obama, who retains high approval ratings among black voters. Yet Romney stood his ground and vowed to repeal “Obamacare,” which he called “nonessential” and “expensive.”

He sought to redeem himself by invoking memories of his late father, George, who as governor of Michigan spoke out against the ills of segregation in the 1960s. And despite being a member of the Mormon Church, which taught notoriously racist ideology and maintained barriers to the priesthood for all black people of the Diaspora, George Romney went on to become head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and pushed for housing reforms to assist African Americans.

Analysts, pundits and audience members alike questioned Romney’s speech and the inherent imbalances in his message. Julian Bond, NAACP chairman emeritus, said that the speech was calculated for a broader white audience. “He’s saying, ‘Look here, I met with the Negroes. I talked to them. I argued my positions. I don’t think they took them, but at least I showed up.’ “

And herein lies the rub, because within hours of leaving the convention, Romney proved Bond’s intuition correct. According to a pool report, at a fundraiser in Montana later Wednesday night, Romney told a conservative crowd that he didn’t mind the booing. “I had the privilege of speaking today at the NAACP convention in Houston … when I mentioned I’m going to get rid of Obamacare, they weren’t happy … that’s OK,” he said. “You remind them of this: If they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff. But don’t forget, nothing is really free.”

This is where Romney’s lack of core meets his Etch A Sketch candidacy. In the same vein as Ronald Reagan, who solidified Nixon’s Southern strategy by creating the false image of a black welfare queen, Romney proved that he is not above using innuendo, race-baiting or dirty racial politics.