Mitt Romney Knows that Conservatism Is a Feeling

Jonathan Chait may have just unlocked Mitt Romney's strategy:

Yes, conservatives have developed a series of policy stances — say, that subsidizing and regulating private health insurance is the greatest threat to freedom in American history. Rather than treat this as a principled view, Romney simply treats it as an atavistic expression of hostility toward Obama. He defends his Massachusetts plan by pointing out that it involves private insurance. That makes it exactly the same as Obama's plan, but Romney probably figures most conservative voters don't know that, and he's probably right...

Rather he uses every question as an opportunity to convey to conservatives that he shares their general sense of anger and grievance against Obama. He does so without, in most cases, tying himself down to specific policy stances that could harm him in the general election.

I had assumed that Romney would face insurmountable obstacles because he is not, at heart, a true conservative. But this turns out to be something that allows him to pander to the base more effectively. It allows him to treat conservatism as a psychological condition, one he can pander to without the complicating burden of taking it seriously.

If Chait is right here, and I think he is, it's actually a tremendous gift to Romney that the question of whether he's a real conservative is being discussed almost entirely in terms of the health reform he passed in Massachusetts and its similarity to the Affordable Care Act. You may remember that four years ago this was also a big question for Mitt, but then the main topic was the fact that he had switched his position on abortion. There's no fudging that -- even the most simple-minded primary voter knows the difference between being in favor of abortion rights and being opposed to abortion rights. But there has been virtually no discussion of abortion in the Republican primary so far. Health care, on the other hand, is complicated and wonky, and it therefore allows Romney to make a plausible-sounding argument that what he did is completely different from the ACA, and he hates it as much as anyone. It just might work.