That left Romney trying to convince the Republican base in the 2008 election cycle that he’d be a reliable protector of unborn life because he’d had a sudden epiphany about its sanctity. You could only marvel at his timing. Romney's epiphany came at exactly the moment when he no longer needed the political capital associated with being pro-choice in Massachusetts politics, and just in time to court the votes of pro-life conservatives in upcoming Republican presidential primaries. He had to know that this was a tough sell for social conservatives, but he was betting that the Republican base would prefer a candidate who was politically correct by their lights but morally inauthentic to one who was steadfast but incorrect.
Before you dismiss Romney’s strategy out of hand, remember that in the 2008 election cycle Rudy Giuliani took the other side of substantially the same bet. He knew as well as Romney that opposition to legalized abortion was the official position of the conservative movement, and he wasn’t about to try changing any conservative minds on that score. Yet rather than recant his longstanding views on abortion, Giuliani petitioned the social conservative church for an open-ended ideological indulgence in light of his conservatism on economic and national security issues. Here was his pitch to social conservatives at a “Values Voters Summit” in October 2007:
“I’m not going to pretend to you that I can be all things to all people. I’m just not like that. I can’t do that. And you know that we have some areas of disagreement, but I believe we have many, many more areas of agreement and the one thing you can count on with me is I’ll always be honest with you. . . . Isn’t it better that I tell you what I really believe instead of pretending to change all of my positions to fit the prevailing wind? I believe trust is more important than 100% agreement.”Romney’s blend of conservative political correctness and moral inauthenticity didn’t take him very far in the 2008 Republican primaries. In delegates won, he came in third behind McCain and Huckabee. But despite being “America's Mayor” and spending an awful lot of money, Giuliani’s blend of political incorrectness and moral authenticity enabled him to win exactly one Republican delegate. So maybe Romney laid down the better bet after all.
If you're willing to be mean about it, you can’t help but enjoy the irony that, in this election cycle, Romney has been obliged to take Giuliani’s side of the political correctness/moral authenticity bet. Apparently having decided that he has run out of politically marketable epiphanies, Romney is standing by RomneyCare in general, and the individual mandate it shares with ObamaCare in particular. Granted, as Ezra Klein reminds us, Romney can at least say that he's being more steadfast than his conservative critics this time by upholding what was the thinking conservative’s approach to health care reform just a few years ago. But the reception he’s gotten from conservatives so far (see, e.g., Mark Steyn’s) suggests that Romney has figured out a way to marry his pre-existing reputation for inauthenticity to Giuliani’s reputation for incorrectness.