Over at The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy explains "Why We Criticize Mitt." Excerpt:
Unfortunately, what happened [after 2008] was exactly what had given us George W. Bush in the first place: conservatives reinforced the GOP once more, as galvanized in opposition to Barack Obama as they had once been against Bill Clinton. And sure enough, history repeated, with a GOP this year nominating a candidate who, if anything, is worse than Bush: more reckless in his foreign-policy pronouncements, more statist in his governing record, and more detached from the concerns of the heartland. There is simply no evidence to suggest that Romney will be more conservative or, more important, a better president than Bush was. All the evidence points in the opposite direction.
So we are at the task we were at in 2002. It's not the election that matters, it's the conscience of conservatism: whether Romney or Obama wins, the country is in serious trouble. But how conservatives react to its trouble makes a tremendous difference: will they organize in opposition to Obama's wars and power-grabs, or will they overlook (indeed support) measures of exactly the same kind if they are enacted by Mitt Romney? Conservatives have to undertake the painful separation of philosophy from partisanship, otherwise they will wind up like Winston [from 1984]. The consequences for the country will be dire: it's not as if the left, which has never come to its senses since the end of the Cold War, offers the slightest alternative. A localist, federalist, prudent right is the only alternative to the welfare-warfare state. But building such a right, especially amid all the noise generated by partisan propaganda, is difficult. Yet it has to be done.
McCarthy's column (read his Reason archive here) embodies a fact that Frank Rich discovered in an interesting New York magazine article in which he immersed himself in the non-liberal media (including Reason) during the Republican National Convention: "Away from the convention stage and from the mainstream media's coverage of it, dissension of various stripes was rife throughout the GOP coalition."
The battle for the conservative soul is one of the most interesting things happening in modern mainstream politics, and there is no counterpart action on the left. Though you have to squint your eyes to get optimistic about where that battle might end up, the rude truth is that someone will have to have a set of policies ready for the day when the country's debt load and entitlement commitments become unbearable. Mitt Romney will not be that guy, but some of the non-Democrats currently pushing him around may eventually qualify for the job.