If Romney is to thrive, he really needs to go on an integrity tour. He needs to show how his outer pronouncements flow directly from his inner core. He needs to trust that voters will take him as he really is. He needs to tell his own complicated individual story and stop reducing himself to the outsider/businessman advertising cliché. He needs to tell us what about his character is more fundamental than his national park patriotism and his skill at corporate restructuring.
He needs to stop opportunistically backtracking on his Medicare position, just to please whatever senior group he happens to be in front of. He needs to show that he is willing to pursue at least a few unpopular policies, even policies that are unfashionable in his own party. Since many people fear that he is a suck-up, it would actually help him at this point if he violated party orthodoxy in some bold and independent way.
He needs to step outside the cautious incrementalism that is the inevitable product of excessive polling and focus-group testing. He needs to find a policy like entitlement reform that is so important to him that he’s willing to risk losing the presidency over it. The eternal rule of presidential politics is that a candidate has to be willing to lose everything if he’s going to win everything.
If Rick Santorum weren’t running for president, he would still be saying the same things he is saying today. Very few people believe that about Mitt Romney. If he can’t fix that problem, he may win the Republican nomination, but it won’t be worth much.