The defining feature of the Republican presidential primaries was the constant Sturm und Drang over Mitt Romney’s ability to win Republican voters. Pundits claimed that Romney had a “ceiling” with conservatives in the party, and opponents like former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum routinely assailed the front-runner as a candidate whose commitment to conservatism was short-lived and inauthentic—a human “Etch A Sketch,” in the words of Romney’s own campaign spokesperson.
But when Romney locked up the nomination after months of bitter fighting, the party promptly came together behind him. Santorum, Romney’s main competitor, dropped out of the race on April 10. One week later, polls showed that 90 percent of Republican voters supported Romney against Barack Obama—identical to the number of Democrats who said they backed the president.
What drove the quick embrace of the former Massachusetts governor? It wasn’t love; conservatives aren’t thrilled with Romney, even as they prepare to support him. But they aren’t objecting to a marriage of convenience. Grover Norquist, founder of the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform, explained Romney’s acceptability in his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. “We just need a president who can sign the legislation that the Republican House and Senate pass,” he said. “We don’t need someone to think. We need someone with enough digits on one hand to hold a pen.”