[T]here’s no reason to believe that Romney is especially dishonest in his core – that he has any special propensity to lie to his friends or neighbors or clients. He wanted a political career, and once he made that decision, he had only two choices: massive dishonesty or certain defeat.
That's probably correct, given the rigidity of contemporary GOP politics. There was however a third way, possibly -- one more perilous, but far easier on the nerves, I would think, as well as on the memory, i.e., not having to always recall, Now what's my position on that this year? And that way was Tim Pawlenty's way, back in the day of 2009, when it looked as though the Minnesota governor could go all the way.
What was the path? Straight down the middle, which in this increasingly conservative environment means solidly center-right. It's undoubtedly true that by playing it straight Romney would have experienced even less primary and caucus success than he has. Yet playing it straight would have compensated Romney to some extent by promoting him as a straight-shooter; his most costly electoral defect up to this point has been that he's untrustworthy and manipulative and too cunningly flexible. Plus, there is at least a reasonable chance that more moderates would have turned out by now had a vocal moderate been running.
And we should also keep in mind who Romney has been running against. Was Herman Cain ever a real threat? Michele Bachmann? Rick Perry? Bozos, all. And if the race still came down to one between Romney and Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich, the difference of significance between Pawlenty and Romney is that Romney has always had the financing to outspend and therefore outlast any mop-up competition -- especially the really poor sort, in every way, like Santorum.
And, it goes without adding much necessary note, that Romney would not have been required to then flip again during the general campaign, back to a moderate stance. (This model also assumes an almost maniacally aggressive economy/jobs-centric campaign by Romney, rather than a reactive one to all the less-than-far-right positions he's ever taken, which has proved a devastating and even ridiculous distraction for him.)
Such an approach would have required real guts, of course: nerve and a methodical constancy of the kind Barack Obama displayed during the 2008 campaign. So, well, so much for that idea, with respect to Mitt Romney.