I'm getting tired of people--including myself--who say that Mitt Romney has no "principles." This is wrong. Romney has principles enough to suit Romney. The real problem is that he doesn't have a framework sufficient to generate principles of a sort that his observers might recognize.
For precisely what do we mean when we talk about a person's "principles"? I take it that we are talking about those commitments that constitute a person's very sense of himself, the things he cannot betray without losing his identity. The thing about Romney is that his set of commitments is so narrow that most ordinary mortals can scarcely understand it as such. So, for example, when he does a 180 on abortion rights, he isn't really betraying anything: he never really gave a damn in the first place. Or health care: you want individual mandate? Fine, we can take that. Wait, you don't want individual mandate? Fine, we can take that just as well.
So what exactly are his core commitments? It's hard to tell exactly but they do seem to be mighty few. He seems to be attached to his family--close enough that he engineer a postmortem conversion of his late atheist father-in-law. I'll bet he likes Wolfeboro, and I can hardly blame him. I've been to Wolfeboro: pretty place. I had a sorta kinda maybe relative who lived up there once: mean old bastard, but rich. Romney, who does not strike me as exactly a mean old bastard, probably also likes money, although oddly enough, even about money he doesn't seem to be particularly avid.
I wonder if the only thing that gets his juices flowing is the pragmatics of deal-making. He enjoyed making health care happen. just as he enjoyed making the Olympics happen, or the takeover and dismantling of a decaying rust-belt enterprise. Deal-making can indeed be a valuable quality in a politician--a quality Barack Obama singularly lacks. But the deals you make with Eric Cantor and Jim DeMint are likely to be far different from the deals you might have made with Teddy Kennedy. Except for Romney, maybe they won't be so different after all.
Touching on a particularly sensitive point, I think it follows that Romney doesn't really hate or resent poor people. He doesn't like to think about poor people: they clutter up the view (which is one reason why Wolfeboro). But other than that, he is mainly indifferent.
I think all this explains why so many liberals (and independents) who find him a lot less scary than the rest of the Republican field, still respond to Romney with a creepy sense of unease. Yet here is an irony: I wonder if it may be exactly the same quality that leaves so many potential adherents unsold among the Republicans. Think about it: the cardinal principle of the Republican party today is the politics of resentment: the sense that some other SOB is getting away with something, whether the SOB in question be an illegal immigrant or a "cosmopolitan" (heh!) hedge fund manager, or a beltway journalist. Even if one does not share the view, one can experience a moment of compassion: resentment is, after all, a human quality. And it's another of the long list of human qualities that Romney seems to lack, and that make him so off-putting to the left and the right alike.