Whenever there is an open Republican race, many professional conservatives fear alienating the candidates. Instead of holding their feet to the fire, they find the person most likely to win and back him. If that person happens not to be particularly conservative, the pundits rewrite conservatism to fit the candidate. This preserves their access and their credibility with their audience. As professional prognosticators, it certainly looks better to have endorsed George W. Bush in 2000 than Steve Forbes. If pundits can convince us that not only did they support George W. Bush but also that George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" was actually conservative rather than warmed over big government liberalism, they can eat their cake and have it, too.
This is deeply problematic, of course, since the professional pundit class is supposed to stand for something other than convenience. Yes, defeating horrible politicians like Barack Obama is the top goal -- but that doesn't justify redefining conservatism entirely. Support Mitt Romney if you must -- but don't urinate on our leg and tell us that it's raining. Mitt Romney is not a conservative. If you want to support him, go right ahead. But don't lie about your rationale. It undermines the conservative standard.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., long ago pointed out that folks who cannot live by certain standards tend to undermine those standards. When the standards are lowered, the behavior that such standards were originally intended to stop increases dramatically. In the case of unwed motherhood, for example, when society ceases to consider such behavior morally wrong, the behavior increases exponentially.
The same holds true in politics. When we deliberately broaden conservatism to encompass government-forced purchase of health insurance or raising taxes or appointing liberal judges or enforcing same-sex marriage or using taxpayer money to bail out business or pushing trade barriers, we destroy conservatism from within. If we do that, why would our politicians even bother to pay lip service to the standard?
They wouldn't. And we'd end up with ever more liberal nominees. Which is precisely what has happened since the halcyon days of Reagan.
Standards matter. If you want to support Mitt Romney, that's your prerogative. But don't sell out conservative principles in the process.