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Why Does Romney Win Moderate Republican Voters?

Stu Rothenburg draws the wrong conclusion from moderate Republican support for Romney (via Andrew):

What’s interesting about Romney and his supporters is that, despite his conservative rhetoric, moderates and country club conservatives continue to support his candidacy. Think about it. Romney, who stresses his opposition to abortion, talks tough on immigration and rules out a tax increase even to help cut the deficit, continues to get the support of pragmatic conservatives who reject former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s ideological rigidity, thought Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) was too conservative and viewed Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a bomb thrower.

Clearly, establishment Republicans also don’t believe Romney when he talks about his views and his agenda.

That doesn’t seem right, but I’m not sure how we could determine this one way or the other. It’s almost beside the point whether these voters “believe” that Romney actually favors his current agenda or not. There are other ways to account for Romney’s support from less conservative and less ideological voters. The most straightforward is that they are less ideological, and they are therefore less interested in policy litmus tests and inconsistencies in a candidate’s record, which makes it easier for Romney to propose whatever he wants without fear of alienating them. Romney presents himself as a problem-solving manager, and that is what many of these voters think the President is supposed to be. Romney’s very recent past as a moderate Republican is well-known, but that should be a reason for all voters to distrust him regardless of their ideological leanings.

The other explanation is that moderate voters can react just as viscerally against other candidates as anyone else. Moderate voters can be just as tribal as any other set of voters. If they see concerted opposition to Romney from “very conservative” voters and candidates, many of them will conclude that Romney must be “one of them” because so many conservatives dislike him. If the sort of Republicans they dislike are against Romney, they are going to be more inclined to support Romney. The same thing happened to Huntsman. Huntsman went from being a governor with a mostly very conservative record in Utah to being the candidate perceived to be to Romney’s left. Why? Because he received fawning praise from the center and the left, which convinced most Republicans that he was a moderate and not to be trusted, and inexplicably he then encouraged people to think of him that way. As a result, he received much more support from self-identifying moderates than from any group of conservatives. Romney responded to hostility from “very conservative” Republicans by more or less sticking to his 2007-08 script, which allowed him to remain competitive enough among “very conservative” voters while winning the rest. There are also differences of style and tone that seem to make Romney more appealing to less conservative and less ideological voters.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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