Romney performed remarkably at the Republican Presidential primary debate last night in California. He appeared poised and rehearsed, if a little too rehearsed and poised. Though many major news outlets are calling Giuliani the winner of the debate, Romney introduced himself to voters in a way that Giuliani didn’t. He stuck primarily to his scripted talking points but it allowed him to make few mistakes and dare I say, sound presidential. During one question where he was asked what he liked least about America he answered by saying what he liked most about America, for example.
Unfortunately for Romney a passionate performance in a televised debate isn’t going to help him ascend to conservative pedestal held by Ronald Reagan, who arguably was the true victor of this debate. Political Wire has a new National Journal Political Insiders poll that asks political insiders; “Which of your party’s top-tier presidential candidates, if any, have inflicted lasting damage on themselves this year?” Of the Republicans, 21% see Romney’s repeated flip-flopping as permanently damaging to his presidential run. 21% isn’t a significant enough amount to cause too much worry (especially when compared to 49% who see McCain’s ties to President Bush as a permanent damage) but it does reflect a concern both inside and outside the beltway that Romney is a political opportunist who changes his opinion to fit the political climate.

Romney’s change of opinion was addressed directly by John Harris from the Politico who asked:

MR. HARRIS: Governor Romney, in recent months you’ve said you were, quote, “always for life,” but we’ve also heard you say you were once, quote, “effectively pro-choice.” Which is it?MR. ROMNEY: Well, I’ve always been personally pro-life, but for me there was a great question about whether or not government should intrude in that decision. And when I ran for office, I said I’d protect the law as it was, which is effectively a pro-choice position. About two years ago when we were studying cloning in our state, I said, look, we have gone too far; it’s a brave new world mentality that Roe v. Wade has given us; and I change my mind.

I took the same course that Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush and Henry Hyde took. And I said I was wrong and changed my mind and said I’m pro-life. And I’m proud of that and I won’t apologize to anybody for becoming pro-life.

MR. HARRIS: Governor, with respect, some people are going to see those changes of mind as awfully politically convenient.

MR. ROMNEY: You know, I told you that I studied at great length this issue. When I ran, I — for the very first time, I told you that I was personally pro-life but that I would protect a woman’s right to choose as the law existed. And that stayed the same until until two years ago, as I indicated, and at that time, as a result of the debate we had, the conclusion I reached was that we had gone too far, that cloning and that creating new embryos was wrong, and that we should therefore allow our state to become a pro-life state.

I believe states should have the right to make this decision, and that’s a position I indicated in an op-ed to the Boston Globe two years ago.

UPDATE: In case there was any question of the winner in last night’s debate, the Mitt Romney campaign has cleared up any confusion in this weeks edition of “Romney Week in Review,” the weekly campain update sent to supporters. Says Romney’s campaign:

 Last night, Governor Romney won the first Republican presidential debate with his message of conservative change in Washington.

And let the spin begin. Thank you Mitt Romney for answering the question that the pundits will be debating for the next few days.  Now if only he could get past his stagnant poll numbers and percieved or actual flip-flops.