George Will says Mitt Romney is hurting conservatism. Does it matter?

Columnist George Will's negative critique of Mitt Romney is evidence that conservatives may find Romney electable, but nominating him would be a lost opportunity for the ascendant right.

By , Staff writer

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    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a town meeting in Manchester, N.H., Friday, Oct. 28, 2011.
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Conservative columnist George Will says Mitt Romney “is a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable; he might damage GOP chances of capturing the Senate.”

Don’t hold back, Mr. Will, tell us more about the man who would be president:

“Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis,” he writes, “a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from ‘data’ … and who believes elections should be about (in Dukakis’s words) ‘competence,’ not ‘ideology.’ … Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for this?”

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People pay attention to Will – a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist syndicated by the Washington Post and a regular TV news analyst for ABC once described by the Wall Street Journal as "perhaps the most powerful journalist in America.”

Apparently, what’s gotten under Will’s skin is what he says is Romney’s penchant for “straddling” issues, sometimes ending up with a “policy pretzel.”

Will may be unfairly harsh (he sometimes writes as if he’s just sucked a lemon or his tie is too tight), but he does reflect concern among other prominent conservatives.

“Consider, for example, a few pages from the opposition research book the McCain camp prepared against Mitt Romney in 2008,” Erick Erickson of RedState.com blogged Friday. “There was an entire section on Romney’s flip-flops.”

“The most striking thing to me is that some of Mitt Romney’s positions have flipped again for 2012,” Erickson writes. “Romney has a real trust problem he has to overcome. It seems too much an opportunist. Republicans are happy to support him, but they sure don’t want to settle for him.”

That’s the view of many neutral observers as well.

“Even as Republicans come around to the idea that Romney may be their strongest opponent for President Obama, many are still convinced that a Romney presidency would represent a historic missed opportunity for the right,” writes Alexander Burns at Politico.com. “George Will may be the most important establishment voice to come out and say so directly.”

There was evidence of that in Saturday’s Iowa Poll, which had Romney one point behind Herman Cain (23-22 percent among likely participants in Iowa’s Republican nominating caucuses next January).

“The survey lays bare some serious vulnerabilities for the steady-as-he-goes Romney, despite months among the leaders of national polls and the plaudits he’s won as a debater,” writes Jennifer Jacobs, chief political writer for the Des Moines Register, the newspaper which sponsors the Iowa Poll. “The former Massachusetts governor earns the support of just 10 percent of those who say they definitely plan to vote in the caucuses (Cain is at 27 percent). And Cain dominates Romney among those who identify themselves as very conservative, by more than 3 to 1.”

“Another factor favoring Cain over Romney: More than half of likely caucus goers think a representative of the core conservative base can win the White House in 2012,” Jacobs writes. “Only a third see a need to select a more moderate candidate with appeal to independents.

Trying to appeal to that core conservative base usually means appearances on Fox News. (And if things don’t work out in the elections, you can always get a nicely-paid gig like Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin.)

Having talked at length with Rick Perry Sunday, Fox News host Chris Wallace took a poke at Romney about that.

"With Governor Perry's appearance, we have now interviewed all of the major Republican candidates in our 2012 one-on-one series except Mitt Romney," Wallace said. "He's not appeared on this program or any Sunday talk show since March of 2010. We invited Governor Mitt Romney again this week, but his campaign says he's still not ready to sit down for an interview."

One more thing that probably didn’t make Mitt Romney’s day.

When you do an Internet search for “Romney can win,” Google suggests that you may have mistyped that and comes back with the results for “Romney can’t win.”

Nothing politically underhanded or Freudian there, says Google.

"Our spellcheck feature is automated, and while no algorithm is perfect, we're always working to improve our search quality," a Google spokesperson told CBS’s Political Hotsheet. "Last year, we launched roughly 500 improvements to our search algorithm."

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