"Mitt Romney sounded at the first debate a lot like what conservatives always suspected he really is — a Massachusetts moderate who supports some regulations and doesn't want to cut taxes for the rich," say Reid Epstein and Ginger Gibson at Politico. "And the right wing loved it." The fairly abrupt transformation from the self-professed "severely conservative" candidate of the GOP primaries to the "Moderate Mitt" who governed Massachusetts was reportedly due to a family intervention by Romney's wife, Ann, and son Tagg. And the late-game shaking of the proverbial Etch A Sketch has extended past the debate: On Tuesday, Romney told The Des Moines Register that "there's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda." (His campaign quickly clarified that Romney would sign anti-abortion bills.) But why, after months of consternation that Romney isn't conservative enough, has the Right enthusiastically embraced the newly centrist-sounding iteration of Willard Mitt Romney? Here, five theories:
1. Republicans want to win, period
The most obvious explanation for the lack of hand-wringing on the Right is that the new Romney is beating President Obama, while the old version was getting creamed. "I am certainly a partisan and certainly a committed activist, but getting rid of Obama overwhelms everything," former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) tells Politico. "We can't worry now about the nettlesome aspects of Romney's positions on some things." Tancredo supported more-conservative Rick Santorum in the primaries, he notes, "but now, who cares?"
2. Romney outfoxed the Tea Party
This is the "authentic version" of Romney, not the heartless plutocrat Team Obama caricatured — with help from the Romney lost in the "sour fog" of the clownish GOP primaries, says David Brooks at The New York Times. It took real "guts" to show his true colors, but "either out of conviction or political desperation, he broke with Tea Party orthodoxy and began to redefine the Republican identity." That one step broke the Tea Party's spell, and "conservatives loved it!" — or at least "loved that it was effective."
3. "Moderate Mitt" isn't really that moderate
Conservatives probably aren't up in arms because while Romney talked a good centrist game, "he didn't change his core positions; he's still a conservative," says Doyle McManus at The Los Angeles Times. A close look at the debate "suggests that Romney's move toward the center is a matter of tone and emphasis more than substance." He still won't raise any taxes, even to reduce the deficit, and he's still committed to repealing ObamaCare. In fact, the "list of Mitt's moderate moments" can be boiled down to his assertions that "regulation is essential" and that Medicare is good, says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. If that counts as moderate, it's only because "our standard for what counts as a moderate Republican" has shifted so far right that "if you're willing to admit that President Obama was probably born in the United States," you qualify.
4. People only see the Romney they want to see
Let's say "conservatives are clinging to the fact" that Romney "hasn't officially changed any of his policies to match the rhetoric," just as moderate Republicans are clinging to his "Obama lite" rhetoric, says Sarah Jones at Politicus USA: "That's a lot of faith to put in someone who is best known for flip-flopping." There are enough Romney versions out there that most voters can find one they like, says John Dickerson at Slate. The problem with this "Where's Willard?" act is that nobody can be sure "which crowd he will play to when he's in office."
5. The Right doesn't think Romney's views matter much
At heart, "Romney isn't an ideological moderate," says The Washington Post's Klein. "He's a pragmatic executive," and even if he wanted to govern from the center, the Republican Congress wouldn't let him. "We've seen what Romney does when he fears the Right: He folds." Yes, for all the speculation over who the real Romney is, at least we know today's Republicans, says Andrew Rosenthal at The New York Times, and "there's no reason to think they would tolerate Moderate Mitt in the Oval Office, or that Mr. Romney would even ask them to." We saw this game in 2000 — George W. Bush also got a "winking two-month pass from the far Right" during his run toward the center — and once he was in office we got "huge deficits and a pointless, expensive, and bloody war in Iraq."