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More Conservative Than You Think

The new Mitt Romney.

Jan 16, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 17 • By FRED BARNES
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Romney wasn’t always there. In 1994, he ran as a liberal Republican against Senator Ted Kennedy. By New England standards, he was a conservative governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, erasing a $3 billion deficit, cutting taxes, and aggressively opposing gay marriage. He’s best remembered, though, for his misbegotten health care program, Romneycare.

Today he’s talking like a full-fledged conservative. Yet there’s a legitimate question about whether his conservatism is deeply rooted or merely a campaign conversion that began with his first presidential bid in 2008. For the time being, that’s unknowable.

But I’ve been impressed by Romney’s ability to win the endorsement of one of New Hampshire’s toughest and least compromising conservatives, Jennifer Horn. A former talk radio host, she runs a grassroots organization, We the People.

Horn initially backed Tim Pawlenty and traveled to Ames, Iowa, to participate in the presidential straw vote in August. Pawlenty lost and dropped out the next day. Hours later, Horn got a call from Romney as she was going through the security line at the Des Moines airport to fly home. He wanted her support.

She held back. Her organization staged a series of events for individual candidates at which she and audience members asked questions. Romney came in December. “He hit every mark that day,” she told me. “He had a heart for America and wrapped that around his lifelong fiscal conservatism. I was convinced he would lead from the right.” She endorsed him a few days before Christmas, four months after his call to her.

Horn has no illusions about Romney. He’s neither a movement conservative nor an ideological conservative. He’s a pragmatist for whom conservatism makes the most sense. That it helps him politically no doubt makes sense, too.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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