The media’s coverage, unless you are Mitt Romney, is almost comical in their aversion to him and exaggerated portrayal of him as unlikable. You’d never guess it from the media, both mainstream and conservative, but Republican voters like Romney quite a lot.

The Post-ABC News poll reports that 69 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of him, the highest among all the GOP contenders. Even among “very conservative voters” he draws a 62 percent favorable rating. Rick Santorum scores a 74 percent rating (although this may change after his dreadful debate performance), but the numbers suggest that these voters don’t dislike Romney. They simply like (or liked) Santorum better.

In part, voters see perhaps what the right-wing bloggers, with visions of flat taxes and privatized Social Security ( i.e., ideal but unachievable conservative purity) dancing in their heads, miss: Romney is running on a rather conservative agenda. Not hardcore or angry conservatism, but definitely right of center.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board (which at one point dubbed him unacceptable because of Romneycare) grudgingly admits his tax plan is pretty good, praising his “dive into the deep end of the tax reform debate with a proposal that includes a 20% across-the-board cut in income tax rates”:

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The rate cut follows the Reagan formula of applying to anyone who pays income taxes. The current 35% tax rate (set to rise to 41% in 2013 including deduction and exemption phase-outs) would fall to 28%, the 33% rate to 26.4%, the 28% rate to 22.4%, the 25% rate to 20%, the 15% rate to 12%, and the 10% rate to 8%.

As an economic matter, this is the most effective kind of tax cut because it applies at the margin, meaning the next dollar of income earned. A mountain of economic research shows that a marginal-rate cut does far more than tax holidays or targeted tax credits to change the incentives to invest and hire workers, and thus provides the most economic lift.

The Journal editors chide his decision to limit capital gains tax relief to middle- and lower-income Americans (Romney says there is only so many tax dollars to cut and wants to focus on those hit hardest by President Obama; in other words he would actually like to win the election and not just the debate). But the Journal’s editors go out of their way to compare his plan to that of Rick Santorum’s:

The Romney proposal will also provide a tax contrast with Rick Santorum. The Pennsylvania Senator favors a top tax rate of 28% but he also wants to triple the child tax credit to $3,000. He’d have a hard time credibly doing both without blowing up the budget because the tax credit has almost no revenue feedback effect. It’s a social gesture with little or no impact on economic growth.

Meanwhile, on corporate taxes, Mr. Romney’s tax cut applies to all companies equally. Mr. Santorum would cut the rate in half for most companies, except manufacturers would pay 0%. This is a form of industrial policy that would have every company lobbying to qualify as a manufacturer and would defeat the tax neutrality that is a main goal of tax reform.

The plan got a scowl and a harrumph from many on the right. But that’s par for the course.

Romney plowed over Santorum in last night’s debate, actually making a convincing case that Santorum was more a prisoner of go-along D.C. than the hard-edged conservative that Santorum’s current rhetoric suggests. But still there were right-wing pundits grousing that, well, maybe Santorum bombed, but Romney didn’t really win. ( They are determined to afford him no credit: “He isn’t always very appealing when he’s in close combat with another candidate — he can come across as snippy and over-eager.”) Huh?

For starters, Santorum didn’t collapse on his own; Romney sliced and diced, deploying data and keeping Santorum on his heels. And he did it without losing his temper (the same can’t be said for Santorum). But that’s still not going to be good enough to win over the Romney-averse. Romney, you see, only wins by “default.” Whatever.

But not everyone on the right has drunk the anti-Romney Kool-Aid. Jim Pethokoukis said Romney’s tax plan “goes the full Reagan.” Mona Charen hit the nail on the head when she wrote:

This is the most unpredictable political year in living memory. Every pundit should pound his chest and repeat, “I know nothing. I know nothing.” . . . With the exception of his fixed, tight-lipped smile while others were speaking, I thought Romney was excellent. He scored major points on the Detroit bailouts, and kicked the teachers’ unions for good measure. His answer on Iran was first-rate. In all the euphoria about Newt’s debating skills a month ago, people forgot that Romney is actually a very good debater. He can easily best Obama in debate.

I suspect with each passing week you’ll see that sort of analysis become more the rule than the exception. The perpetual search for, celebration of and then disappointment in the fatally flawed anti-Romney flavors of the month can be exhausting, not to mention fruitless. Moreover, if Romney should win the contests next week and do well on Super Tuesday, conservative media will be clamoring to, if not get on the bandwagon, at least not be seen to be at odds with the bulk of a party they claim to understand and reflect.

Romney is not the ideal conservative candidate, but he is in many ways the epitome of the center-right consensus, which in sober moments conservative pundits will concede is the essence of the American body politic. Romney has struggled at times to get through the primary process in a party in which the most conservative elements are often the most vocal and best organized, if not the most numerous. Battling Obama will be no picnic, but it may be a fight for which Romney is better suited and more at ease. But then again, who knows?