This is Part 1 of my Election '08 analysis of presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Part 2 is forthcoming.
With last night's Iowa caucuses now in the books, former governor and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is feeling good (but not great) about his second-place finish to Mike Huckabee in this crucial inaugural state caucus for the Republican nomination for president.
His other opponents did much worse than he did, but Romney had a distant second place finish to Huckabee, even after so much time and money spent in Iowa over the last year. Questions still remain about Romney's major beliefs and principles, however, and I'm not talking about his Mormon religion. On everything from guns and the NRA, abortion rights and emergency contraceptives to gay rights and pardons, this man has flip-flopped so much in recent years that he makes John Kerry look like the model of consistency.
I defy anyone to name another presidential candidate in recent times from any political party who has reversed or backtracked on issue after issue as much as he has and won the White House. And in an election season where voters are looking for a leader they can trust, Mitt Romney's trustworthiness is an issue in and of itself and the fact that Iowa voters preferred the significantly less well known and less wealthy Huckabee should tell you something about how voters feel about him and the Republican field in general. They may be catching on to Romney's record, but so too should the rest of the country.
It is true that anyone with a long career in politics is bound to change his or her mind on some issues over time. However, a majority of the 60-year-old Romney's adult life has been centered on professions or (Mormon) missions outside of politics, much as they may have initially informed his political views. And during his considerably shorter time in the political realm, his views on social and other current issues have evolved at such an alarming rate that you can't blame voters for being skeptical of them and seeking out other candidates.
By now, most political junkies or serious followers of the campaign have either seen on YouTube or heard about the clips showing Romney's formerly pro-abortion, Roe v. Wade and gay rights stances during his failed run for Senator Ted Kennedy's seat in 1994 and successful run for governor in 2002. In the latter year, he revealed that his mother Lenore was pro-choice during her attempt at a Senate seat back in 1970, and that he has long been dedicated to the pro-choice cause himself. He even associated himself with Planned Parenthood in 1994.
As governor though, he began his transformation on pro-choice rights by flip-flopping on legislation that made the "morning after" pill available to Massachusetts citizens. First, in mid-2005 he opposed its use for rape victims after pledging to increase its access, according to the Washington Post. Late in 2005, he signed a bill increasing its access to MA citizens and made all state hospitals comply with the law, and also made the pill available to rape victims, all to the dismay of pro-lifers in the state. Nowadays though, he considers himself a mostly pro-life conservative and supports repealing Roe.
Regarding gay rights, he has flip-flopped on civil unions in recent years and after having participated in the Boston Gay Pride Parade in 2002 and having run "to the left of Ted Kennedy" on gay rights in 1994, he now emphatically calls homosexuality destructive to the idea of the American family and strongly opposes gay marriage. Romney may have gone too far in denouncing the gay life style, but he at least wanted MA voters to get a chance to vote on the legality of gay marriage in the state instead of leaving its lawfulness up to a judge. Even with a new governor in town (Democrat Deval Patrick), we're still waiting for that chance.
Mitt Romney also changed his attitude toward gun rights over time. In the 1990s, he supported the Brady Handgun Violence Protect Act of 1993, but now opposes gun control, with the exception of a ban on assault weapons. And as Tim Russert pointed out on December 16, 2007 in his one-on-one interview on "Meet The Press, Romney used to say he doesn't "line up" with the NRA, but he's now a lifetime member! And, he recently claimed he was a lifelong hunter of varmints and rodents. This flip-flop on gun rights would be really funny if it wasn't so politically opportunistic like many of his other reversals.
On Romney's Meet The Press appearance, Russert cornered him on a host of issues, starting with his December 6, 2007 'Faith In America' speech in which he stated that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." However, when Russert asked him if an athiest can be a moral person and "participate in freedom," Romney flipped and said "Oh, of course."
He tried to explain to Russert that as a nation faith mattered but individually it did not and that there would be no litmus test in presidential appointments. On its face, that's commendable but late in that speech, he said: "Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me." That would be Romney saying it does matter if individuals have faith in their life, because if they don't, they are not his "friend" or "ally." What this episode represents is Romney once again talking out of both sides of his mouth.
Looking back, as a Massachusetts citizen, I thought Mitt Romney did a fairly good job of running the state and cleaning up the fiscal mess that his fellow Republican predecessor Jane Swift left behind. However, he had a poor finish to his governorship, as his spending cuts – which among other things hurt the elderly and badly needed nursing programs – to balance the budget late in his term weren't very popular around here. He also raised the gas tax and raised the most fees of any state in the country. By the end of his one and only term last January, Romney's approval rating was only 43%. And with his change of heart on issues he campaigned on as governor and mocking of MA on the presidential campaign trail, you can't blame many of my fellow state citizens for claiming Mitt Romney turned his back on his constituents.
To be continued…