Romney ended up as an odd combination of an essentially pragmatic politician running on a cookie-cutter conservative agenda. Don’t get me wrong: His agenda was far preferable to the president’s, was brave on Medicare and would have been good for the country. But his conservatism had no distinctive flavor and nothing to inoculate it from simplistic attacks. In 2000, George W. Bush and his team came up with “compassionate conservatism” precisely to brand him as something different and buttressed the slogan with policy proposals.

A different Romney agenda could have provided more substantive reinforcement for his rhetoric about increasing take-home pay: say, a tax plan that offered a generous child tax credit for families, a more explicit replacement plan for Obamacare that emphasized controlling health care costs, a proposal to begin addressing spiraling college tuitions.

There is a resistance on the right to a direct appeal to the middle class, out of an understandable fear of pandering and of anything that smacks of class-based politics. But the middle class isn’t a special-interest group; it is nearly everyone in America. A recent Pew Survey found that only 7 percent of people call themselves lower class and 2 percent upper class. Everyone else says they are middle, upper-middle or lower-middle class.