Mitt Romney has taken flip-flopping to new extremes. It's not merely that he's moved toward the political center for the general election, or that he's equivocating on a few controversial issues.
It goes to the core of his presidential campaign and to trust and character. How can Americans ever believe what he says, or that he'll keep his promises?
Romney's jaw-dropping willingness to so blithely change his positions for political expediency should also worry voters about how effective he would be in the White House. How could he successfully negotiate with leaders in Congress or around the globe if they can't take him at his word?
President Barack Obama is rightly trying to focus on this issue in the campaign's final days. On the stump, he's taken to needling his opponent about "Romnesia" that he can't remember stands he took four days ago, much less four years ago.
"We joke about Gov. Romney being all over the map, but it speaks to something important it speaks of trust," Obama told voters Tuesday in Ohio, probably the most important battleground state. "There's no more serious issue in a presidential campaign than trust. Trust matters."
While Obama can be faulted for failing to follow through on some campaign promises from 2008, it isn't for a lack of trying, and it isn't because he has dramatically changed his positions.
The question of who the real Romney is has dogged his candidacy from the start. GOP rival Jon Huntsman once called him "a perfectly lubricated weather vane."
The presidential debates highlighted this flaw for all to see. For instance, on Monday night, Romney endorsed Obama's plan to withdraw nearly all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. This from the same man who repeatedly blasted the president for announcing a pullout timetable, saying that would only help the Taliban.
In the two earlier debates on domestic issues, Romney presented himself as the moderate Massachusetts governor, not the hard-line conservative he campaigned as while seeking the Republican nomination.
For instance, he earlier supported legislation that would allow employers to refuse to cover birth control in their health plans. But during the town hall forum in New York last week, he declared that he doesn't "believe employers should tell someone whether they have contraceptive care or not."
In the first debate, he claimed that his incredibly vague, trust-me tax plan would not lower taxes paid by high-income Americans, though he has been suggesting the opposite the entire campaign and even though the few proposals he has released such as repealing the estate tax and eliminating most taxes on investment income would reduce the tax burden on the rich.
There are many, many other examples.
Romney is trying to pull off these head-spinning political pirouettes despite the armies of fact checkers in the media. If his deeply cynical strategy succeeds, will it really matter again what candidates promise?
A senior adviser to Romney let the cat out of the bag in March. "I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes," Eric Fehrnstrom told CNN. "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."
Maybe you can get away with that as a candidate. You can't as president.