For years, liberals have entertained the possibility that Mitt Romney is secretly a moderate whom they could actually agree with. After all, he was for abortion before he was against it, and Romneycare is no conservative achievement. Jonathan Chait admitted as much in 2008, a position he reiterated last week: “He is not, at heart, a true conservative.” Similarly, Newsweek ran an article this week stating that “supporters say that Romney would be “more himself” in a general-election setting, where he’d no longer have to pander to the Republican fringe.”
For someone generally so keyed into the structural aspect of politics, I'm surprised by Chait's opinion of Romney because no matter Romney’s true views, he would be a very conservative president.
These commentators alluding to Romney’s past policies as proof of his inner moderate are right about one thing -- Romney is playing a game. But the outcome isn’t one where he brings back his Massachusetts centrism; it's one where he gets elected – twice – by the most conservative party in decades. His shifting his stances on issues like abortion is evidence that he is an opportunist, not that he harbors secret liberal beliefs. Because above all, Romney is a chameleon who will adapt to survive in politics, and like every other Republican today, surviving in the GOP means tacking right.
This remains true even if Romney is elected. He is unlikely to drift away from his base in the same manner that Obama has since 2008. Obama was able to moderate his views because there is no Tea Party equivalent in the Democratic Party that is willing to risk a general election loss by introducing a more liberal primary challenger. The right-wing would have no qualms about primarying a president who doesn’t share their values. After trying so hard to get into office, Romney would not take risks that would send him to the one-term graveyard no matter his personal beliefs. Romney may have moved left to be governor of Massachusetts, but that's not where his party is today.