Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, Thursday, April 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Mitt Romney’s campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom caused a kerfuffle recently by saying that in the general election Romney could simply erase his extreme conservative positions from the primary “almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” 

Now that Mitt Romney is combining his campaign operations with the Republican National Committee, he is, for all intents and purposes, the nominee. And so the process of erasing extremism has begun.

As Daniel Libit reports in the Daily, the RNC intends to introduce a major initiative to appeal to Latinos. “The RNC will unveil a Hispanic coalitions team with state directors in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and New Mexico,” Libit writes. “The swing-state undertaking is part of a larger effort to stem the tide of Latino disaffection with the Republican brand—at least enough so that trouble doesn’t turn into certain disaster in the general election…. Perhaps most noteworthy of that operation is its emphasis in reaching out to voters in Spanish, at times exclusively, despite the calls of some conservative activists and Republican lawmakers who are currently to pushing English-only legislation in Washington.” The Romney campaign has plenty of room for improvement in its Spanish language outreach. Currently there is no Spanish language version of its website.

Democrats are determined not to let Romney run away from his positions on immigration that are wildly unpopular among Latinos. For example, Romney opposes the Dream Act, which enjoys support of 90 percent of Latinos. The Democratic National Committee is organizing conference calls for reporters with Latino Democratic congress members nearly every day. On Friday morning they gladly pulled one together after Russell Pearce, the Arizona State Senator who wrote that state’s draconian anti-immigration law, said that he and Romney have an “identical“ position on immigration. “Romney’s locked into the most extreme position on immigration,” said Representative Charlie Gonzales (D-TX) on the DNC’s Friday call. “He supports states passing laws [similar to Arizona’s] meaning we could have 50 [state] immigration laws.”

Romney and his Republican supporters are also attempting to avoid responsibility for their opposition to women’s rights. Throughout the primary season Romney has pandered to opponents of women’s rights in the most cowardly and dishonest manner. He refused to state in a debate whether states should be allowed to ban contraception, pretending that even though he went to Harvard Law School he is unaware of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut that overturned state laws against contraception use. In a later debate he insisted that his healthcare reform law in Massachusetts did not require Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception for rape victims, as if such a requirement would be a bad thing. He was timid in his criticism of Rush Limbaugh’s sexist smearing of contraception advocate Sandra Fluke. And Romney promised to end funding for Planned Parenthood.

Now polls show he may pay the price among women voters. A swing state poll shows President Obama leading Romney by nine points, thanks to an eighteen-point lead among women and a 2–1 lead among women under 50 years old. RNC Chair Reince Preibus tried to explain Romney’s women problem by claiming that the Republican War on Women, epitomized by intrusive state laws such as requirements that women be subjected to a transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion, is an invention of Democrats and the media. “If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s Political Capital with Al Hunt. “It’s a fiction.” Comparing women to caterpillars and claiming their concerns are fictional is probably not going to help the GOP’s gender problem very much.

Other Republicans keep causing problems for Romney. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whom Romney has hailed as a “hero,” signed a law on Friday revoking his state’s equal pay requirement. The Obama campaign is more than happy to blast out such news to the national press and to draw the connection between the GOP’s more extreme ideologues such as Walker and Romney. “Does Romney think women should have ability to take their bosses to court to get the same pay as their male coworkers?” demanded Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith in a statement. “Or does he stand with Governor Walker against this?”

Romney’s camp is trying to soften his image among women through meaningless feel-good gestures rather than substantive policy moderation. His campaign uses his wife, Ann Romney, as his designated humanizing agent. On Friday the Romney campaign released a video called “Family” that contains no policy content of any kind. It merely features Ann recounting her experience raising five boys. Romney surrogate South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called Ann Mitt’s “golden bullet” for winning over women. “When they see how strong she is, the fact that she is an M.S. survivor, a cancer survivor, a great mom, a great wife, strong supporter, and hear her talk about him, I think he’ll do a lot better [among women],” Haley said. Apparently Haley thinks women care more about Romney’s marriage than their reproductive freedom. And Romney should think twice before inviting women to examine his personal life as evidence of his benevolence towards women. In his capacity as a Mormon bishop he demonstrated a breathtaking lack of sensitivity to women experiencing medically complicated pregnancies, whom he pressured not to have abortions.

Romney himself seems to appreciate that women actually care about social, legal and political gender equality. Unfortunately he offers them little besides more congenial issue framing and symbolism. “A discussion about religious liberty was distorted into a discussion about contraceptives,” said Romney in an interview with NewsMax on Wednesday. “And there was the somehow Republicans are opposed to contraceptives. I think it was most unfortunate twist by our Democrat friends. I think this will pass as an issue as people understand our real position.” Presumably he is referring to the debate over the Blunt-Rubio amendment, a Senate measure that Romney endorsed and virtually every Senate Republican voted for. If it passed, employers would be allowed to refuse health insurance for any medical procedure they deem immoral. It is intended to protect conservative institutions from having to pay for contraception coverage, but it could be extended to anything.

In another attempt to woo women voters Romney offered on Friday that he thinks the Augusta golf club should allow women to join. He’s right, but who cares? President Obama had already taken that position. And Obama, unlike Romney, stands for the rights of women on issues that matter to more than just a handful of corporate executives such as the membership policies of elite golf clubs. If Romney is going to win over women and Latinos he is going have to offer them valuable policy proposals. Doing so, however, would risk alienating his socially conservative base. That is a bigger problem than a few videos cut in Spanish or featuring Ann Romney reminiscing about raising their children can solve.