To me, Mitt Romney is the personification of this particular problem. He has spent his campaign first convincing Republican partisans that he's "severely conservative," and then once he got the nomination, he's been working hard to convince the rest of the country that he's not as conservative as those wackos who would end legal abortion or invade Iran.
People are noticing. Here's Matt Yglesias on the subject:
If Sherrod Brown were running for president on Romney's currency manipulation platform, center-right commentators would be losing their shit. When Romney does it, the assumption is that he doesn't mean what he's saying. In a sense I think even Romney's deeply dishonest ad pretending that Jeep is shifting production to China reinforces the idea that there's a dual-track message here. For the sake of voters in Ohio and Wisconsin, Romney is running as a retrograde protectionist. But elites are supposed to know he doesn't mean what he's saying. The fact that his protectionist ads are so fast and loose with the truth is, among other things, a way of signaling that he's just screwing around.
This is one of the things that bugs me so much about the modern Republican party. There is no incentive for honesty.
If there was, the first clown to bring up Obama's birth certificate years ago would have been laughed out of the room. But what happened? We had to endure years of birther speculation under the guise of shoulder shrugging and "just asking questions."
Just asking questions? Yeah, you're asking questions about raised seals and newspaper announcements, but you never asked the most salient question of all: "How fucking stupid do you really think I am?"
For me, the answer is simple: "Not stupid enough to buy your bad faith bullshit." Mileage will vary.