Clearly, a lot of conservatives are skeptical that the formerly pro-choice, pro–gun control, pro-mandate governor is genuinely committed to conservatism. But instead of rehashing the primary campaign, conservatives should look at productive ways they can keep pressure on Romney to make sure he adheres to a limited-government agenda on key issues such as tax reform, entitlements, and health care.
Ironically, one of the most frustrating aspects of Romney’s character — a calculating political nature that has enabled him to effortlessly reverse prior statements and positions — could prove essential to conservative efforts to pressure him into doing the right thing.
Critics of Romney who argue that he’s really a liberal and boosters who claim that he’s a true conservative both err by attempting to understand Romney through an ideological prism. In reality, he’s a businessman who wants to apply his well-honed management skills to the public sector. If one is to be successful in the business world, the important thing is to satisfy customers and maximize profits.
If Romney is convinced that conservatives will enthusiastically support him no matter what, then he’ll make the calculation that he has room to migrate left during the general-election campaign and throughout a potential presidency. But if he feels uneasy about his support among conservatives, he’s much more likely to run and govern from the right.
Rather than resting on their 2010 laurels, conservatives should work hard this year to put as many principled lawmakers as possible into Congress — people who won’t merely talk tough about shrinking government when a Democrat is in the White House, but who will be willing to resist calls for party unity and stand up to a Republican president if he tries to expand government.
Supporting Romney as the only alternative to Obama doesn’t mean that conservatives have to spend the summer and fall defending Romneycare to their friends or making excuses about his history of flipflops to their neighbors. By staying true to their principles, conservatives will not only feel better about themselves, but they’ll also improve the odds that Romney will run as a conservative in 2012 and govern as one if elected.
— Philip Klein is senior editorial writer at the Washington Examiner and author of the new e-book Conservative Survival in the Romney Era.