It's easy to forget, but the iteration of Mitt Romney we see in 2012 is by no means similar to the 2008 version. If Romney 1.0 was an independent who distanced himself from Reagan, and Romney 2.0 was a moderate Republican with sensible positions on social issues and health care, Romney 3.0 was a social conservative who cared deeply about the culture war.
It was that third version who sought the Republican nomination four years ago, working under the assumption that this wing of the party would never accept John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, so he could be the far-right standard bearer.
For the 2012 race, Romney has moved on to a yet another persona -- version 4.0 is an outsider businessman, representing the GOP establishment and the top 1% -- but that doesn't mean he's unwilling to try on his old costumes from time to time.
With Rick Santorum positioning himself as a credible rival, and Newt Gingrich baiting Romney "into a discussion of religious values," we're getting another look at a facade we haven't seen in a while: Culture Warrior Mitt.
Consider Romney's message of late:
On marriage equality, Romney, who used to be a moderate on LGBT issues, was disgusted by yesterday's Prop 8 ruling in California: "That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices."
On Planned Parenthood, Romney is not only eager to cut off the health organization from all public funding, he endorsed Komen for the Cure's original decision to eliminate grants to Planned Parenthood. (Romney attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in Massachusetts in 1994.)
On contraception, Romney is investing a great deal of energy in attacking the Obama administration over its decision to characterize contraception as preventive care in all health insurance plans. That Romney used to agree with Obama has apparently been forgotten.
On religion in public life, Romney has begun adding more faith talk in his stump speech, as evidenced by an appearance in Colorado yesterday. "When they wrote the Declaration of Independence, they chose their words with care," Romney said. "The state did not endow us with our rights, nor did the king. Instead, the Creator endowed us with our rights."
Whether social-conservative voters buy any of this remains to be seen. Romney's Mormon faith, which is a deal-breaker for some evangelicals, and the fact that he was a pro-choice moderate a few versions ago, makes the pitch difficult. But if the race for the Republican nomination becomes a protracted fight, don't be surprised if Culture Warrior Mitt sticks around for a while.