"If you want a fiscal conservative, you can’t vote for Rick Santorum, because he’s not," Romney told the crowd. "He’s not a deficit hawk - he says he’s not a deficit hawk. I am, I’m a fiscal conservative."On the surface, this is a laughable comment. Rick Santorum, thanks in large part to his "blah" rhetorical style, is hardly anyone's idea of a liberal. And conservatives are defending him on the merits against Mitt Romney's attack—there's no question but that it's a lame one.
Romney acknowledged Santorum's rise in the polls, saying it's a "very good thing" that Santorum is "getting his moment in the spotlight now" so people can take a closer look at his record.
He said the federal government doubled in size while Santorum was in office, also noting that Santorum "voted to raise the debt ceiling five different times" and "voted for billions of dollars of earmarks, including the Bridge to Nowhere."
Lame though it may be, however, don't forget that this is yet another example of how Mitt Romney has positioned himself on the far right of issue after issue during the campaign. Sure, he's been awkward as hell doing it—like when he labeled himself "severely conservative"—but that doesn't change the fact that he's repeatedly attacked his rivals as being too liberal. Some examples: Rick Perry on immigration, Newt Gingrich on Paul Ryan's plan, Gingrich on taxpayer funding for abortion, Rick Santorum on funding for Planned Parenthood, and Santorum again on fiscal policy. Earlier in the debate season, Romney came out against raising the debt limit—in favor of extending the hostage crisis—while even Rick Santorum said blocking the debt ceiling increase wasn't an option.
I think there's a tendency on the part of political observers, especially in the media, to cut Romney some slack on his march to the right; because of Romneycare, there's a sense that he isn't really as conservative as he says he is. But there's really no way to know if that's true, and even if it is true, wouldn't it mean that Romney is lying—and shouldn't that be an indictment of Romney's character? The reality is that with the narrow exception of his criticism of Rick Perry on Social Security and his rejection of Newt Gingrich's proposed elimination of the capital gains tax, Mitt Romney on virtually every single issue of Federal policy has staked out the most conservative position of any of the candidates running.
Again, Romney might not believe a word he's saying. But that doesn't change the fact that he's positioned himself as a right-wing candidate. And if he wins the nomination, it will be very important to hold him accountable for taking the positions he was forced to embrace to satisfy his political ambitions.