In a vacuum there’s nothing newsy about this, but 2012 isn’t a vacuum. We’ve talked before about the developing narrative: Palin vs. anti-Palin, “true conservatives” vs. centrists, blue-collar vs. white-collar, and … populists vs. “elitists.” With Beck having brought down the house at CPAC and the GOP in the grip of tea party fee-vah, why oh why would a potential nominee spritz cold water on populism?

Branding, dear boy, branding:

As Mitt Romney sets out this week to promote his new book, “No Apology,’’ he is also auditioning for a rapidly disappearing role in American politics: a politician who is speaking out against the “temptations of populism.’’

“The populism I’m referring to is, if you will, demonizing certain members of society: going after businesspeople, going after Wall Street, going after people who are highly educated, people who are CEOs,’’ Romney said in an interview. “That kind of ‘All of our problems are due to that group’ is something that is unproductive.’’…

“Populism sometimes takes the form of being anti-immigrant, and appearing anti-immigrant, and that likewise is destructive to a nation which has built its economy through the innovation and hard work and creativity of people who have come here from foreign shores,’’ Romney said.

“Anti-immigrant” or anti-illegal-immigrant? Ah well. Some of this is pure defense, of course — the GOP’s most famous CEO has an obvious interest in stamping out antipathy to big business — but it’s also his way of sending up an early flare for centrists that if they’re looking for an alternative to the “true conservatives,” they need look no further. Not convinced? More from the Globe:

Romney’s book is notable for its silences. The 2008 candidate who worked hard to convince religious conservatives of their shared passion for social issues devotes just two cursory paragraphs to abortion, makes only incidental reference to gun rights, and refers to gay marriage in the most cryptic terms possible. His “case for American greatness,’’ as his book’s subtitle puts it, has little to do with morality.

Translation: This ain’t your daddy’s Mitt Romney. (Or, rather, your slightly older brother’s.) Still not convinced? Well, when he was asked today on “The View” who he thought might be a formidable candidate in 2012, he singled out Bob McDonnell, who won the governor’s seat in Virginia last year by running a sort of proto-Romney campaign — socially conservative, yes, but verrry quiet about it compared to his meat-and-potatoes rhetoric about jobs. That’ll be the upshot of Mitt ’12 too, the “non-ideological conservative” versus whoever emerges as the ideological darling. It’s Palin’s slot if she wants it…

Here’s Romney this morning on “Today” doing the smart thing and standing by RomneyCare while hammering The One for trying to nationalize the problem. Flip-flopping on this issue will do him more harm than good given perceptions about his opportunism, but then we’ve discussed that before too. Exit question: How big is Palin’s lead over Mitt among tea partiers? The answer may surprise you.

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