What fascinates about Mitt Romney's most recent tergiversation--those "47 percent" comments weren't just "[in]elegantly stated," no, no, they were "completely wrong"--isn't his abandonment of what seemed like a genuinely held position. That's just Mitt talking. Nothing to see here. No, what fascinates is the additional turmoil that his freshly uncovered, compassionate conservatism is destined to cause in his party.
Consider this. What remains of the besieged Republican Old Guard was prepared (I'm convinced) to argue in 2013: OK, we tried it the young-turk, new tea-partying way; we begged our nominee to go out there and howl the pseudoconservative gospel of right-wing radicalism. He did. And there's his head, over there on that platter. Now come on, we cannot do this again, or as a party we're doomed. Our past follies, from Reagan to Bush, are finally exposed and the new demographics are eating us alive. We've got to get back to the old-time religion--the defensible, the winning religion--of Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford.
But, oops, now Romney has pulled that comfortable rug out from under the Old Guard. The tea party crowd can, and will, with some justification, counterargue that Romney betrayed the pseudoconservatism of right-wing radicalism at the eleventh hour; he would have won, if only he'd stuck to his cold, extremist guns.
True, tea partiers would have argued anyway that Romney was never the proper candidate to put forward. But now they can argue a counterfactual history of this campaign: that even the wrong candidate with the right message would have won, had he persisted, purely and devoutly.
And that argument provides the tea party a wider opening, against the old-timers.
Meanwhile Mitt Romney will fade into the same, self-centered oblivion as George W. Bush. Neither of them has ever looked back to observe the abominable wreckage he's left in his wake.