Ed Kilgore on last night's debate:
[Mitt Romney's] self-representation, moreover, as a deeply caring moderate who shares the president's goals but is far more eager to reach across the aisle, must have caused some bitter laughter behind the scenes in conservative circles....Well, it was OK for him to do this in a debate with Obama. On the campaign trail, he has to stay pure (at most, he can briefly pretend to be a moderate and then immediately flip-flop back). Generally speaking, the GOP base simply won't allow him to deviate from Conservatively Correct Thinking.
Jon Chait believes that Romney has finally pulled off his "etch-a-sketch" moment, reinventing himself as the moderate Republican he once seemed to be in Massachusetts, at a moment when conservatives were too terrified of defeat to object, as they certainly would have earlier in the year if he had hedged on his tax cut plan, let his heart bleed all over the stage for the unemployed and suffering, and begged for a chance to work with Democrats.
But it was OK for him to do so last night because he was beating up Obama. For wingers, absolute fealty to their principles is paramount -- except that being nasty to a liberal or Democrat trumps that. In fact, being nasty to a liberal or Democrat trumps everything for the right.
That's why the Bush end-timers still loved Dubya even after he pushed immigration reform and Harriet Miers, even though he didn't encourage them to hate America's Muslims, and even though he didn't go to war with Iran -- he angered Democrats and liberals from the very start, in Florida in the post-election period, then with his tax cuts, then with the Iraq War. So he had immunity.
Until now, Romney hasn't done a very good job of beating up Obama and other Democrats; he's never done well against Obama in the polls. So he's had to be conservatively pure. Last night, he gave up on that. And the wingers don't care, because he won the fight.
But if he tries it next time and loses, then they'll be upset at what he's saying.