DENVER — For months, staunch conservatives repeated the same mantra: We’ll vote for Mitt Romney, but we’re not crazy about him.
That’s all changed.
Thanks to the Republican presidential nominee’s aggressive performance in Wednesday’s debate, and tough rhetoric Thursday and Friday, the conservative world is embracing a new hero: Romney, derided for years for backing abortion rights, a state-backed health care system and other conservative anathemas, is now lauded for standing up to the hated President Barack Obama while vigorously defending the cause of low taxes and smaller government.
“He’d won their heads. Now he’s won their hearts,” said David Keene, a former chairman of the American Conservative Union who’s the president of the National Rifle Association.
Since the debate, conservative radio host Glenn Beck has played “Happy Days Are Here Again” on his radio show and declared: “Romney looked calm. He looked kind. … Maybe because he knew Jesus was punching Obama in the face so he didn’t have to.”
Erick Erickson wrote about Romney on his conservative blog, RedState.com, “I may not always agree with him, but at least I know I can trust him to make eye contact with the challenges of our day and set about solving them, not looking for easy distractions and fleeting glories.”
At the Conservative Political Action Conference, a Denver gathering of about 2,000, Romney got a wild reception Thursday when he made a surprise appearance. Later that day, the NRA announced its endorsement of Romney, even though he signed a ban on assault weapons into law in 2004 as the governor of Massachusetts.
Ironically, the conservative outpouring comes while Romney is gingerly scrubbing the right angles off some views.
Monday, he told The Denver Post he wouldn’t overturn Obama’s June directive making it easier for certain children of illegal immigrants to stay here legally. Romney had said previously that he’d look at the issue, and in a January Republican debate he said illegal immigrants should “self-deport.”
Thursday night, he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that his assertion that 47 percent of Americans are overly dependent on government was “completely wrong.” For weeks, Romney had refused to back away from the remarks so cleanly.
Also being tweaked are his positions on sweeping tax cuts and changes in the health care law. During Wednesday’s debate, Romney said that although he wanted the 2010 federal health care law repealed, he’d continue protection for people with pre-existing conditions. He also repeated his plan to limit itemized tax deductions for the wealthy to offset cuts in income tax rates and ensure that they don’t pay any less, a position that drew conservative fire in the Republican primaries.