It's not just RomneyCare: The many problems of Mitt Romney

This time Romney is running as a business-oriented establishment Republican and keeping his distance from populist conservatism. In 2008 he tried to muscle aside conservative alternatives such as Fred Thompson. This time, Romney could benefit from crowding on the conservative end of the party as Bachmann, Santorum, Cain, and others make it harder for anyone to assemble a majority to his right. Last time, he staked everything on Iowa. Now he is competing there halfheartedly at best.

But Romney could be overdoing it again. At the same time he has moved, stylistically at least, to the left, the party as a whole has moved right. Romney is essentially making a bet that the tea-party phenomenon is overhyped. It’s a bet that went bad for several business-backed establishment candidates in the Republican primaries of 2010.

Romney may have learned another lesson from 2008 too well. Having been slammed for his flip-flops, he now seems to feel that he cannot switch positions on anything, from his Massachusetts health-care plan to ethanol subsidies. The other candidates (and possible candidates) are now exploiting his rigidity — advertising their own willingness to take on the ethanol lobby, for example. And it’s not at all clear that Romney is winning any points for his obviously calculated consistency.