My skepticism about the genuineness of Romney's concern for the plight of the unemployed and underemployed may be an instance of what has been called Romney's authenticity problem -- although this phrase, admittedly, has been used more with specific reference to his stance on health care reform. It may also, however, point to a larger issue: an authenticity problem of American conservatism in general.
One could argue that this problem, if it does indeed exist, is more a consequence of historical accidents than of the personal failings of American conservatives as individuals. Conservatism in the U.S. has labored under handicaps compared to the conservatisms of Britain or continental Europe. These handicaps may not have been so evident in recent decades, as the Right everywhere has converged on a mantra of neoliberal worship of 'the market,' but they nonetheless continue to operate, or so one might contend.
Put briefly, American conservatism, unlike (say) British conservatism, cannot appeal to the virtues of hierarchy and expect such an appeal to be heard in the same way that it would be heard in a society with a medieval past. On one level, this is just the well-worn Hartzian argument about American exceptionalism stemming from the absence of feudalism. But it's more than that. As Samuel Huntington wrote more than forty years ago (Political Order in Changing Societies, 1968, p.133):
In America,...[c]onservatism has seldom flourished because it has lacked social institutions to conserve. Society is changing and modern, while government, which the conservative views with suspicion, has been relatively unchanging and antique. With a few exceptions, such as a handful of colleges and churches, the oldest institutions in American society are governmental institutions. The absence of established social institutions, in turn, has made it unnecessary for American liberals to espouse the centralization of power as did European liberals.From an historical perspective, Huntington's statement that American conservatism "has lacked social institutions to conserve" contains a rather glaring omission: namely, slavery (and, subsequently, Jim Crow). And I have no doubt that historians could come up with an entire list of social institutions that American conservatives have been interested in conserving. Nonetheless, Huntington's observation remains suggestive.
One might add that, where they have focused on defending social institutions, U.S. conservatives have not tended to be hugely successful. For instance, the defense of conventional marriage and the conventional family is a matter of intense concern to a part of the electorate, but it's a minority. Rather, when American conservatives have succeeded electorally in the fairly recent past, it has been as putative defenders of the common man and woman against the alleged depredations of "big government," even though the American welfare state has always been underdeveloped in comparative terms. Hence Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, vowed that he would "get government off the backs" of ordinary, hard-working voters. Romney is trying to tap into this Reaganesque vein. But Romney is no Reagan and with Romney, moreover, the inauthenticity of one candidate is arguably compounded by the authenticity problem of an ideology.
I'm not sure that any of the foregoing helps to explain the less-than-overwhelmingly-impressive field of Republican presidential candidates. (Although Jon Huntsman, for one, has sort of an interesting biography.) There is probably a more mundane explanation for the lackluster field, namely, a reluctance to run against an incumbent president, even in economic hard times.
But even if this mundane explanation is correct, it may be worth thinking about a more basic problem facing any conservative movement in a mass democracy: how to generate popular enthusiasm for an essentially negative ideology. Thanks to Wikipedia's very long article "Conservatism in the United States" which I skimmed through just now, I was reminded of William F. Buckley's statement that conservatives "stand athwart history, yelling Stop". Yelling 'stop' is not a slogan that will win elections. Thus conservatives in the U.S. have transformed it into other slogans: no big government, no socialism, no government-run health care, no tax increases, etcetera. Whether these slogans can still rev up the conservative faithful in the required numbers -- as they did not manage to do in 2008 -- is an open question as the 2012 presidential campaign season begins.