The answer lies in a misunderstanding of the “conservative” voter. It’s a mistake to think that voters who describe themselves as “conservative” think about politics and react to politicians the same as people who are professionally or avocationally conservative.
Those of us who are professionally or avocationally conservative get into the weeds when it comes to politicians’ view. So for us, it isn’t enough that Mitt Romney now says he is pro-life; we know that in 1994 he ran for senator in Massachusetts as an unapologetic abortion supporter. He says flatly that he changed his mind, but people for whom the pro-life cause is central find such a record untrustworthy.
But that isn’t true of the conservative voter. That voter listens to Romney, and she hears Romney say he’s pro-life. That’s more than likely enough for her if the issue is important to her…
In the end, professional and avocational conservatives want a candidate who was in the trenches with them, who speaks their language and whose views resonate with theirs down the line. They want purity.
The conservative voter? She doesn’t care all that much about purity. Turns out she wants a winner.