Tying together several strands of analysis I’ve been pursuing recently, here is the dialectic that will place a ceiling on Mitt Romney’s level of support during the general election:
The more Republicans become convinced that economic conditions make a Romney victory likely, the more party conservatives will focus on completing the “vetting” of his candidacy that was never quite consummated during the primary season. That means renewed demands for policy commitments on a broad range of issues remote from his monomaniacal campaign message of trusting his business experience to produce better economic results than Barack Obama. And that will make staying “on message,” and avoiding the comparative election Obama and other Democrats are trying to create, a constant struggle for Team Mitt.
To put it another way: every time Mitt Romney looks to be succeeding in his general election campaign, the dominant conservative activist core of his “base” will drag him right back into the permanent primary by which the Right is forever testing its “establishment” politicians.
Perhaps Team Mitt is tough enough to ignore the pressure and get out of this bind. But they will be dealing from now until November with a two-pronged effort by the Obama campaign and conservative Republicans to produce an election day environment that is all about comparisons between the candidates, the parties, and the specific policy options facing the country.