After what seems like an eternity under Obama, and with the raised expectations from the Tea Party's earlier successes, conservatives are extremely reluctant to settle or compromise simply on the say-so of the establishment. For good reasons and bad, Romney seems like a compromise. And no matter how begrudgingly a conservative comes to accept the reality of Romney's nomination, the diehards immediately proclaim any support for Romney to be proof of membership in the establishment. In fact, it seems like the best definition of a Republican establishment member these days is simply someone who has made peace with his disappointment prematurely.
Let me try to offer some solace. Even if Romney is a Potemkin conservative (a claim I think has merit but is also exaggerated), there is an instrumental case to be made for him: It is better to have a president who owes you than to have one who claims to own you.
A President Romney would be on a very short leash. A President Gingrich would probably chew through his leash in the first 10 minutes of his presidency and wander off into trouble. If elected, Romney must follow through for conservatives and honor his vows to repeal ObamaCare, implement Rep. Paul Ryan's agenda, and stay true to his pro-life commitments.
Moreover, Romney is not a man of vision. He is a man of duty and purpose. He was told to "fix" health care in ways Massachusetts would like. He was told to fix the 2002 Olympics. He was told to create Bain Capital. He did it all. The man does his assignments.
In this light, voting for Romney isn't a betrayal, it's a transaction. No, that's not very exciting or reassuring for those who'd sooner see monkeys fly out their nethers than compromise again. But such a bargain may just be necessary before judgment day comes.