How Romney is winning over conservatives by being a fighter

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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There has been a lot of coverage of Mitt Romney’s rapid response, lately. Republicans seem incredibly pleased and surprised that Mitt seems to be a fighter.

For example, regarding the news that a young Barack Obama dined on dog meat, National Review’s Jim Geraghty noted:

John McCain’s presidential campaign wouldn’t have touched this anecdote with a ten-foot pole. Between this and the Romney camp’s rapid response to the Rosen comments, we are seeing a Republican presidential campaign that is exponentially faster on its feet and way more nimble than the previous general-election campaign against Obama.

This is all true. Conservatives are still resentful of the way McCain refused to go after Obama.

But I think there’s still an important point everyone is missing. At least, I haven’t seen anyone note it, yet (though Dave Weigel hints at it.)

This basically fixes Romney’s problem with conservatives. And it could even provide cover for him to reposition his policy stances to the center for the general election.

Here’s why: Today’s modern Republican tends to conflate rhetoric with “conservatism.” In fact, the definition of conservative may well be “someone who gives Barack Obama hell!”

Rhetoric, not philosophy — or even a voting record — is the new measure of a person’s conservatism.

There are many, many examples of this, but here’s an obvious one: Rep. Allen West has earned a measly 64 percent on The Club for Growth’s scorecard. Yet everyone thinks he’s Mr. Conservative. As long as West spouts harsh rhetoric about Communists and Obama, and avoids any calls for “civility,” he can vote like Ted Kennedy and it won’t matter.

Running a tough campaign that takes the fight to Obama would cover a multitude of sins. It could allow Romney to reposition himself for the general election, while still firing up the base.

Maybe this is another argument for adding Chris Christie to the ticket, as well?