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Why Republicans don't trust Romney

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Jan. 30, 2012: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns at Pioneer Park in Dunedin, Fla. ((AP Photo/Charles Dharapak))

Why can’t Mitt Romney make the sale to conservatives? And why is Rick Santorum, the ultimate long shot at the start of this race, now in a position to be a viable alternative?

Mitt Romney used the word conservative and conservatism more than two dozen times, according to the Washington Post’s Dan Balz , in his speech last week at the CPAC convention. That rhetoric is quite different from ten years ago when he was running for Governor of Massachusetts. 

He stated during that campaign that he was “not a partisan Republican" but rather a "moderate" with "progressive" views.” 

In his CPAC speech he described his four years in office as: “I was a severely conservative governor of Massachusetts.” Whatever that means, many will argue that his most far reaching accomplishment, the implementation of “Romney care," betrays all conservative principles. President Obama has on many occasions stated this was the model for his ObamaCare.

He also stated in the CPAC speech, that he had learned his conservatism from his family. “My path to conservatism came from my family, my faith, and my life’s work. I was raised in a home shaped by and rooted in conservative values.”

The values and religious beliefs may have been conservative but the family politics certainly were not! 

Mitt Romney’s father, George, was the three term moderate governor of Michigan. Like his son, George Romney was a successful business leader before entering politics. 

After being elected Governor in 1962, he broke with conservative Republicans in the legislature and with Democratic support implemented, for the first time, income taxes on Michigan’s citizens and also gave collective bargaining rights to public employees. 

He, along with Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York and Gov William Scranton of Pennsylvania, were the moderate leaders fighting to deny the “conservative icon” Senator Barry Goldwater the Republican nomination in 1964. 

As a 17-year-old high school student, Mitt Romney went to the San Francisco convention. as an aide to his father. He watched the bitter proceedings where the Romney-Rockefeller-Scranton efforts were defeated by the conservative delegations supporting Goldwater. George Romney never endorsed or supported the Goldwater-Miller ticket.

Four years latter, George Romney ran unsuccessfully against Richard Nixon for President. Starting out as a front runner, he stumbled badly and got crushed coming in fifth place at the 1968 convention with only 50 delegates supporting him mainly from Michigan and Utah. 

This time, George Romney campaigned hard for Nixon and was appointed Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He was never a Nixon insider and he was forced to resign after the first term. 

Mitt Romney’s mother, Lenore, was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate running as a pro-choice Republican in 1970 (three years before Roe v. Wade decision) against liberal Democratic incumbent Phil Hart. Hart won the election with 67% of the vote.

Either for these reasons or others, Mitt Romney shied away from politics for decades and declined to register as a Republican until he shifted his voting status from independent to Republican in order to run against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts in 1994. 

He proudly stated in that campaign that: “I was an independent during Reagan –Bush; I am not trying to return to Reagan –Bush.” He even declined in 1992 to choose between President George Bush and challenger Pat Buchanan in the Mass presidential primary instead voting for Senator Paul Tsongas in the Democratic contest.

A lot can change, including core convictions, over two decades, but Mr. Romney still has to convince conservatives that he is not a “moderate with progressive views” and he won’t waffle back if he wraps up the nomination. 

His three remaining opponents are not convinced or is Sarah Palin who clearly aimed her CPAC comments at the heart of Romney’s conversions. "Our candidate must be someone who can instinctively turn right to constitutional conservative principles. It's too late in the game to teach it or spin it at this point. It's either there or it isn't."

Equally important, it is not fair or accurate for Romney to accuse the three men remaining in the battle with him as part of the problem in Washington, D.C. 

Each has served their country and their party with distinction. Each has played a leadership role, and while making money and making businesses work is a good thing, so is serving and trying to change Washington. 

Like George Romney decades ago, Mitt Romney is discovering, conservative activists must believe you share their views deeply. 

As we come down to a critical part of the campaign, there is no inevitability to anyone’s nomination. Being a good man, as was his late father, may not be enough. 

Michigan, the state that his father governed, more than 40 years ago, may prove to be the ultimate test for the Romney campaign. If you can’t sell it to the hometown, it could be a long way to Tampa.

Edward J. Rollins is a Fox News contributor. He is a former assistant to President Reagan and he managed his reelection campaign. He is a senior presidential fellow at Hofstra University and a member of the Political Consultants Hall of Fame.

Edward J. Rollins is a Fox News contributor. He is a former assistant to President Reagan and he managed his reelection campaign. He is a senior presidential fellow at Hofstra University and a member of the Political Consultants Hall of Fame.