The Republicans’ money man can’t buy himself a new look on gay rights, abortion, especially when his new belt and shoes don’t match
If money talks, then Mitt Romney has Republicans listening.
The former Massachusetts governor surprised everyone by amassing some $20 million dollars for his presidential campaign in the first quarter of this year. That’s almost double John McCain’s tally for the same period and puts Romney far in front of the supposed GOP frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani.
With a sum that huge more than double the previous record for this stage in a presidential campaign Romney has cemented his spot in the GOP “top tier,” and has gone a long way toward establishing himself as the most credible candidate in the race for social conservatives.
If the handsome Romney succeeds in crowding out other not-so-lovely Republican candidates like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and congressmen Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Duncan Hunter of California, it
will be because of Mitt’s money, and not because is really Mr. Right for the right.
Because when it comes to social issues, Romney makes fellow his Massachusetts colleague John Kerry look consistent. Even when Romney isn’t contradicting himself, he’s contradicting himself.
We already know that Romney reinvented himself since his first major campaign in 1994, when he tried to topple Ted Kennedy. Back then, Romney was pro-choice and pro-gay, actively campaigning for Log Cabin support and promising gays he would be a more effective advocate for them than Kennedy.
Considering Kennedy’s record as the single most effective champion for gay rights in the Senate, that was some big talk. It will take a lot of money for Romney to pretty himself enough with conservatives that they forget his promiscuous fling with the gays.
Romney’s makeover may be even more difficult because he hasn’t come up with a new look that works. It’s not enough to shed his pro-gay, pro-choice past like last season’s Prada, especially when the nettlesome fashionistas in the media keep pointing out when his brand new belt and shoes don’t match.
Take gay journalist Jonathan Rauch, who pointed out recently in Atlantic magazine that although Romney has reversed himself on abortion and gay rights, his new views didn’t wind up being consistent.
Romney opposes abortion but at the same time opposes a federal constitutional amendment on the issue, believing it should be left to the states to decide.
“My view is not to impose a single federal rule on the entire nation, a one-size fits all approach,” Romney told the National Journal, “but instead allow states to make their own decisions in this regard.”
Romney also opposes gay marriage, and yet he called McCain “disingenuous” for taking the same tack Romney does on abortion: opposing a federal constitutional amendment and letting the states decide.
“Taking the two quotations side by side,” Rauch writes, “one could be excused for supposing Romney was trying to have it both ways.”
That’s putting it mildly. One reason Rauch cuts Romney some slack is that conservatives often have trouble reconciling their fondness for federalism letting the states decide important social questions with their impatience toward those pesky progressive states that decide questions the wrong way.
The pattern that emerges is more politics more than principle: Where the public nationwide is against them, like on keeping abortion legal, conservatives champion federalism so they can get their way at least in some states. Where the poll numbers swing their way, like on gay marriage, they go for broke and a single federal solution.
That’s so expedient it’s no wonder a swinger like Romney fell for it.
Democrats aren’t much more principled, unfortunately. They typically have more faith in the national government making decisions on important social issues. That’s probably because liberals are much more concentrated in a smaller number of states, so they have more leverage in Washington than in 50 state capitals.
Democrats favor states’ rights only as a fall back, when winning at the national level doesn’t seem likely.
Though both parties may swing both ways on federalism, at least the Democrats play on our team. And it’s rare, even among eager-to-please politicians, to see someone as transparently opportunistic as Romney.
That doesn’t mean Romney might turn out to be a closet liberal if elected. It does make Romney is every bit as vulnerable as John Kerry was on being an unprincipled flip-flopper. If Romney manages the GOP nomination by seducing conservatives and buying up the rest of the party, there’ll be plenty there for the Democrats to use as fodder.
Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade, Southern Voice, and gay publications in three other cities. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 30, 2007