They may love to hear Rick Santorum preach morality or Newt Gingrich denounce the news media, but when they contemplate how to recapture the White House, they tend to be practical. That's why Mitt Romney, who does not make anyone's heart flutter, nonetheless has a formidable lead.
In 1988, it was George H.W. Bush. In 1996, it was Bob Dole, who beat the likes of Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes and Phil Gramm. In 2000, Forbes, Gary Bauer and Orrin Hatch couldn't impede George W. Bush. In 2008, the party passed over Mike Huckabee in favor of John McCain, who chose Sarah Palin partly because conservatives were so unenthusiastic about him.
This year, one hard-edged right-winger after another has fallen by the wayside, leaving the "Massachusetts moderate" (as Gingrich calls Romney) to pick up the pieces.
What gives? I suspect most Republicans are not so blinded by ideology as to think most Americans would vote for a 150-proof conservative. But I also suspect this year, their loathing for Barack Obama makes anyone who can beat him look acceptable.
Their view of Obama as a dangerous radical and a total disaster is certainly extreme. But it's precisely that extremism that makes them able to embrace a relative moderate.