It was a veiled swipe at Rick Santorum and a bit rich coming from him, but Mitt Romney is right: Republicans in Washington do need to stop acting like Democrats.

At the business roundtable in Monroe, Romney did not mention surging rival Rick Santorum at the roundtable, but his critique echoed the charges he’s been leveling at Santorum in their pitched battle to win the Feb. 28 primary in the state where Romney grew up.

When the GOP held majorities on Capitol Hill, he said, “Republicans started earmarking like crazy. Republicans spent too much money, way above the rate of inflation. Republicans didn’t send programs back to the states. Republicans didn’t eliminate programs, we added programs. We were doing exactly what the Democrats have done. And we can’t keep doing that.”

He had to ruin it, though, with this:

By contrast, said Romney, “I’m going to Washington not as the next step in my political career, because I don’t have a political career. My life was spent in the private sector.” He said he would make Midwestern states, including his home state of Michigan and neighboring Ohio, into destinations for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Come again? I knew Mitt Romney was running on his private-sector experience — situational competence and all that — but I didn’t know he now claims he hasn’t had a political career. What was his 2008 campaign then? His run as the governor of Massachusetts? His bid for the Senate?

Yuck. He’d be better off to stick to his reminder to voters that Republicans have betrayed conservatives in the past and they’re liable to do so again. Then again, that also just reminds voters that his all-purpose excuse for his every past misstep is, “But, but — I was the governor of Massachusetts.”

The bigger question (and my exit question) is this: What will it take for Republicans in Washington to act like Republicans — or, better yet, conservatives?