Two things happened yesterday that don’t seem unrelated. First, there was the release of a new poll in Ohio that showed Mitt Romney pulling closer to President Obama but still trailing by 4 points – thanks to a massive 36-point gender gap. Then came Romney’s statement to an editorial board that “there’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
This is an extension of the strategy Romney employed at last week’s debate, simply playing dumb when confronted with the aspects of conservative ideology that are difficult to market outside the Republican Party base. In this case, there is a clear urgency for Romney in creating distance between himself and the right’s recent fixation on reproductive issues: A recent Bloomberg poll of swing voters in Ohio and Virginia found Romney leading among married mothers by a few points in each state – with the potential to open much bigger leads if he can work around the concerns they have about his views on women’s issues.
Romney, the Bloomberg poll showed, enjoys a clear advantage among these women on the economy, but has been hindered by, among other things, his vow to defund Planned Parenthood, his opposition to Obama’s decision to mandate insurance coverage of birth control, and his antiabortion position. The new Ohio numbers, from a CNN poll released yesterday, speak to Romney’s challenge. Among men in the Buckeye State, he’s now clobbering Obama, 56 to 42 percent. But with women, Obama is winning by a 60-38 percent margin. That translates into a 51-47 percent overall lead for the president, but if Romney can erode Obama’s advantage with women even a little, he can make up that ground.
Romney has played this game before, in the only general election before now that he ever won. It was exactly 10 years ago that he was running for governor of Massachusetts and found himself trailing in the race’s final weeks. The Romney campaign’s main strategy was to scare suburban swing voters with the specter of rampant Democratic cronyism in the state capitol – warning voters that a “gang of three” Democrats would run the state if Romney’s Democratic opponent, Shannon O’Brien, were elected.
But part of appealing to these swing voters also involved assuaging any concerns they had about Romney being to their right on cultural issues, particularly abortion. On this front, O’Brien spotted a clear opening. The year before, when he’d been back in Utah overseeing the Olympics, Romney had been thinking that his political future would be in the Beehive State, and not Massachusetts, where a Republican, Jane Swift, was serving as acting governor and where both Democratic senators were entrenched. So Romney, who had run as a passionate abortion rights supporter in his 1994 campaign against Ted Kennedy, began repositioning himself to fit in with Utah’s far-right Republican electorate, penning a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune in July 2001 in which he instructed the paper not to identify him as pro-choice.
It wasn’t a complete policy shift. Romney left himself enough wiggle room in case a 2002 opportunity back in Massachusetts opened up – which it did a few months later, as Swift’s governorship collapsed and Republicans begged Romney to come home and save them. So it was that Romney in ’02 resumed presenting himself as an abortion rights advocate, although this time in more muted terms, promising that he would uphold the state’s laws and do nothing to restrict abortion access, but shying away from the pro-choice label. Presumably, this was meant to seem consistent with the ’01 letter he wrote in Utah; it was probably also done with the knowledge that, if he ever wanted to go national as a Republican candidate, Romney would have to eventually declare himself pro-life.
O’Brien recognized all of this and tried to corner Romney in their final debate, just over a week before the election. It can be maddening to watch their encounter now. O’Brien’s warnings about Romney’s obvious insincerity on the issue seem prescient today, but at the time, Romney did a rather masterful job deflecting them, pretending he had no idea why anyone would be confused about his position and aligning himself perfectly with the sentiments of swing voters. He even turned the tables on O’Brien, who in an effort to show a clear policy difference with Romney on the issue came out against a parental consent law. In other words, on the one abortion policy area where they officially disagreed, Romney managed to express the more broadly popular view.
The Romney who bested O’Brien in that debate was the same Romney who showed up in Denver last week. And it’s the same Romney who expressed bafflement to the Des Moines Register’s editorial board yesterday over why anyone would think he’d make restricting abortion a priority as president.
There is a difference this time, though. As Irin Carmon points out, restricting abortion absolutely is a priority for the national Republican Party, and if Romney is president he won’t have much leeway to defy this sentiment. You can see it already, in fact, with the Romney campaign’s quick clarifying statement last night that he “would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.” Consider it a preview of a Romney presidency. If he strays on an issue important to the right, it won’t be long until the right brings him back into line.
The question for now is whether Romney can downplay reproductive issues enough to eat into the gender gap. At the national level, that gap seems to be evaporating quickly in the wake of last week’s debate. But the Ohio numbers suggest that things might be different in the swing states, where the candidates have concentrated their resources and where voters are presumably more familiar with their messages.
By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, October 10, 2012
With the Drudge Report’s bombshell scoop that Condi Rice is now the veepstakes’ front-runner — which, some pundits suspect, is just the Romney campaign’s attempt at dangling a shiny object in front of the political media in an attempt to distract from the latest Bain controversy — the first reaction of many, on the right and the left, is that Rice’s pro-choice views make her inclusion on the GOP ticket impossible. Theoretically, though, it’s not impossible. Avoiding traffic jams while driving out of the city on a summer Friday afternoon is impossible. Watching the Lion King without crying during the stampede scene is impossible. A Republican presidential candidate choosing a pro-choice VP is entirely possible.
To be sure, the right would obviously prefer an all-pro-life ticket. Why not? But if it came down to it, we can’t imagine that having a pro-choicer on the ticket would hurt Romney. The vice-president doesn’t have any influence over the direction of abortion policy in this country, and everyone knows it. Rice isn’t going to appoint justices to the Supreme Court. She’s not going to sign bills or veto them. The most she could do is cast a tie-breaking vote on some kind of abortion-related legislation, and even in that infinitesimally rare scenario, it’s hard to believe she would break with her president and her entire party.
When it came down to it, the choices before conservatives would be President Obama — your standard abortion-loving and abortion-loving-judge-appointing liberal — or Mitt Romney, a pro-lifer (although, granted, not the most trustworthy one) who will appoint pro-life judges but who happens to share a ticket with some pro-choice window dressing. You’re telling us that abortion crusaders are going to stay home on Election Day and hand the infanticide-loving president four more years in the White House because Romney declined to appoint a pro-lifer to an entirely symbolic position in his cabinet? We don’t buy it.
Look no further than Sarah Palin, perhaps the most pro-life person on the planet, for proof of how easily Rice’s pro-choiceness (which isn’t even that strong to begin with) can be overlooked. “I think that Condoleezza Rice would be a wonderful vice-president,” she said on Fox News last night, while also noting that “it’s not the vice-president that would legislate abortion.”
If even Palin — who has said that she wouldn’t even want her 14-year-old daughter to abort a baby conceived through rape — is okay with Rice being on the ticket, other pro-lifers should be fine with it too.
This is not to say that we think Romney will actually pick Rice. For one thing, he already promised that he wouldn’t. Aside from that, it really comes down to two words: Bush taint. Sorry for the mental image.
By: Dan Amira, Daily Intel, July 13, 2012
Lots of politicians, and quite a few presidential candidates, have changed their minds on abortion. This is partly because, in its broadest terms, it is a weighty, complex issue with a legitimate case to be made on both sides, even if one side has a stronger case (I’m not talking here about subsidiary issues like parental consent or the despicable laws requiring women to get ultrasounds or anything like that, just the basic question of whether abortion is right or wrong). It’s also because in recent years, both parties have tolerated less and less deviation on the issue, particularly in anyone who wants to be their presidential nominee. There are still a few pro-life Democrats (like Harry Reid) and pro-choice Republicans (like Olympia Snowe), but the days when someone could hope to get on a national ticket without toeing the line on abortion are gone.
So if you’ve been around a while, there’s a chance you held one belief in your early years, but then moved to align with your party later on. This is what happened, for instance, to George H.W. Bush (a great advocate of reproductive rights in his early years as a member of Congress) and Al Gore (who started off his career pro-life). Chances are most people don’t even know that about Bush or Gore, but people sure do know that Mitt Romney changed his views on abortion. Why? A few reasons.
First, it happened very recently—over a period between 2004 and 2005, when he was moving toward his first run for president. Second, there’s lots of video of Romney loudly declaring his pro-choice position and promising to be a vigilant guardian of a woman’s right to choose. Third, he has flipped on a lot of things, so the abortion change fits in with a broader impression of Romney as opportunistic and unprincipled. And finally, Romney has never offered an explanation of why he changed that Republican voters find persuasive.
So today, Will Saletan offers a long, exhaustive story about Romney’s history with abortion, documenting every movement on the issue over Romney’s career, and all the ways (many of them shamelessly dishonest) that he has tried to justify those movements:
When you see the story in its full context, three things become clear. First, this was no flip-flop. Romney is a man with many facets, groping his way through a series of fluid positions on an array of difficult issues. His journey isn’t complete. It never will be. Second, for Romney, abortion was never really a policy question. He didn’t want to change the law. What he wanted to change was his identity. And third, the malleability at Romney’s core is as much about his past as about his future. Again and again, he has struggled to make sense not just of what he should do, but of who he has been. The problem with Romney isn’t that he keeps changing his mind. The problem is that he keeps changing his story.
Saletan paints Romney’s history of changes on abortion like everything else about Romney: careful, methodical, planned, full of rewritings of the past, and utterly devoid of any discernible principle or genuine sentiment.
If he gets elected, though, will Romney be different in any meaningful way from a candidate who had been anti-abortion all his or her life? Let’s look at what he’ll actually do. He’ll instantly reinstate the Mexico City Policy that bans U.S. support for any group that even suggests abortion overseas, pushing that pendulum back to the Republican side. He’ll sign any legislation Congress might come up with restricting reproductive rights. And perhaps most importantly, he’ll appoint to federal courts, and to the Supreme Court, judges who want to overturn Roe v. Wade. If Romney were elected and one of the five justices who currently support Roe (Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor) retires or dies, he will absolutely, positively appoint a successor who is ready to overturn Roe.
Because he doesn’t have much choice, whatever he believes deep down. He has to dance with the one who brung him, and the Republican party will simply not tolerate anything less. Republicans may fear that he’ll get to the White House and suddenly shift back to being pro-choice, but that simply isn’t going to happen. Try to imagine the category-5 shitstorm that would result if a President Romney nominated someone to the Supreme Court that Republicans felt was a less-than-reliable vote to overturn Roe. If he was in his first term, he’d immediately get primary challengers. If he was in his second term, they’d try to impeach him. Even if most Americans don’t want to overturn Roe, the political cost of another shift for Romney would just be too high. And it’s hard to argue that for him, there’s any other calculation to be made.
By: Paul Waldman, The American Prospect, February 22, 2012
Mitt “Groucho” Romney: “These are my principles. And if you don’t like them, I have others.”
When he challenged Ted Kennedy in the 1994 U.S. Senate race, Mitt Romney used polling data to determine that he would run as a pro-choice candidate while remaining personally pro-life, according to a new book by Boston journalist Ronald Scott.The Washington Examiner revealed the moment in Scott’s book:
According to Scott, Romney revealed that polling from Richard Wirthlin, Ronald Reagan’s former pollster whom Romney had hired for the ’94 campaign, showed it would be impossible for a pro-life candidate to win statewide office in Massachusetts. In light of that, Romney decided to run as a pro-choice candidate, pledging to support Roe v. Wade, while remaining personally pro-life.
Well, that’s certainly pragmatic. If your positions will keep you from getting elected, change your positions. Now he’s trying to win the primaries, so Mitt’s switched his abortion stance back to his original anti-abortion position (or an even more draconian one, I can’t keep up) and no doubt during the general election he’ll find yet another position to take.
As much as we might scorn Romney for changing his past position purely based on polling numbers, I think I might find this even more shallow, though:
In an October 1994 debate, Romney said he believed that abortion should be “safe and legal” and that Roe v. Wade should stand. He added, “And my personal beliefs, like the personal beliefs of other people, should not be brought into a political campaign.”Sen. Kennedy seized on his stance: “On the question of the choice issue, I have supported the Roe v. Wade. I am pro-choice. My opponent is multiple choice.”
Romney responded, “I have my own beliefs and those beliefs are very dear to me. One of them is that I do not impose my beliefs on other people.” He then told the story of a family friend who passed away from an illegal abortion.
So at least back then, his justification for changing his position is that he would not impose his beliefs on other people (bringing a family relative into it as an example). Now he’ll “impose his beliefs” on you happily, I guess, because the Republican base wants him to.
This is what I find so detestable about Romney. Not any individual positions, or even the more atrocious elements of his corporate past, but his apparent lack of any strong principles whatsoever. Every stance is “whatever it has to be,” and tomorrow it might be something else. Both his corporate and his electoral lives have demonstrated a complete lack of personal conviction or morality. Just ambition.
By: Hunter, Daily Kos, December 30, 2011
Mitt Romney’s problem with the Republican Party is not just that he previously held liberal positions on a wide-ranging array of issues. That can be explained away, at least a bit, as pandering necessary to win votes in a Democratic state. The deeper problem is that Romney was promising behind closed doors to act as essentially a sleeper agent within the Republican Party, adopting liberal stances, rising to national prominence, and thereby legitimizing them and transforming the Party from within. Today’s Washington Post has more detail:
Mitt Romney was firm and direct with the abortion rights advocates sitting in his office nine years ago, assuring the group that if elected Massachusetts governor, he would protect the state’s abortion laws.Then, as the meeting drew to a close, the businessman offered an intriguing suggestion — that he would rise to national prominence in the Republican Party as a victor in a liberal state and could use his influence to soften the GOP’s hard-line opposition to abortion.
He would be a “good voice in the party” for their cause, and his moderation on the issue would be “widely written about,” he said, according to detailed notes taken by an officer of the group, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.
“You need someone like me in Washington,” several participants recalled Romney saying that day in September 2002, an apparent reference to his future ambitions.
That’s a very smart argument. Liberals have far more to gain by having a Republican advocate their views than by having a Democrat advocate their views. The article proceeds to detail meetings in which Romney told gay-rights activists the same thing:
In an Aug. 25, 1994, interview with Bay Windows, a gay newspaper in Boston, he offered this pitch, according to excerpts published on the paper’s Web site: “There’s something to be said for having a Republican who supports civil rights in this broader context, including sexual orientation. When Ted Kennedy speaks on gay rights, he’s seen as an extremist. When Mitt Romney speaks on gay rights he’s seen as a centrist and a moderate.
Now, conservatives can live with this if they think that once in office Romney will have to watch out for his right flank at all times. “Having flipped, he could not flop without risking a conservative revolt,” writes former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. “As a result, conservatives would have considerable leverage over a Romney administration.”
That’s not crazy. It’s also possible to believe Romney was simply conning liberals all along — that’s something he has hinted at in debates, referencing the fact that he was running in Massachusetts. (He couldn’t oppose abortion in Massachusetts — he’s running for office, for Pete’s sake.) Of course the risk of nominating a con artist is that there’s always the chance he’s conning you.
By: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, November 3, 2011