With the single exception of his promise to work with Democrats, every change Romney mentions in the Mackinac speech is standard conservative fare. The changes involve becoming more consistently conservative than Bush-era Washington Republicans. So I’m not sure Romney does have a different view of the Republican primary electorate than Thompson. But the Republicans for Change theme is one he can continue to use in the general election.
If you follow Romney’s campaigns across his career, he always keeps his options open for when he has to deal with a different electorate. His tortured “took the position of a pro-choice candidate” phrasing was a prelude to him taking a different position. Look at what he told the Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus: “I’m governor of Massachusetts, and I’m telling you exactly what I will do as governor of Massachusetts, but I’m not going to tell you what I’d do as mayor of Boston or a congressman or any of those positions.” That interview took place in 2005!
Similarly, the surge is “apparently” working so he has room to change his mind in the general election should he so desire. People who don’t think he looks ahead don’t know Mitt Romney.
Romney’s problem is that Thompson’s Southern accent makes him seem a more authentic standard bearer for the conservative message. Paradoxically, that folksiness may serve the GOP less well in the general than a Republicans for Change theme. But we’ll see.