But getting back to the race this year, Rick Santorum claims to be the “real conservative.” Even if his record is pockmarked with lapses (on free trade, Medicare Part D, right-to-work, etc.), his rhetoric and tone can’t be considered as lacking “strong partisan or ideological sentiment.” He is the flip-side of Ronald Reagan, whose ideology was consistently conservative but whose outward demeanor was charming and soothing. (When the bogeyman the Democrats concocted didn’t show up in the 1980 debates, Reagan was home free.) Santorum is not exactly a happy warrior and he doesn’t have the knack for putting people at ease. (Fire up the partisans he can do, but sweet talk the skeptics is not a skill he’s shown.) …

Now normally, pols run to the extreme in the primary and then back to the center in the general election. But Santorum has never been one to trim his sails for expediency or pass up a fight. In other words, he’s too honest to fake being a reasonable moderate.

Maybe Cost is wrong. Maybe the old “turn out the base”strategy could prove to be a winning one for Santorum. But if Republicans concede the race is about that 7-10 percent in the middle, you have to wonder if Santorum could get more than a smidgen of that dead-center segment of voters “not anchored by strong partisan or ideological sentiment.” Those people sound just like the portrait of Romney conservatives have been painting.