Wednesday, February 29, 2012

There Romney Goes Again

Via David Kurtz, Romney is once again on the defensive over what you would think would be a non-issue.
About an hour ago, a reporter for a cable-only TV news station in Ohio tweeted that Mitt Romney has told him in a yet-to-air interview that he opposed the Blunt amendment, which would allow employers to refuse to provide health insurance policies that cover contraception and other matters of conscience. Opposition to the Blunt amendment by Romney would mark a sharp break from the current orthodoxy of national Republicans, but it’s not entirely clear yet what Romney said.... [T]he campaign is saying Romney in fact supports the Blunt amendment.
Now it may be true that the tape will show that Romney is consistent in his support for the Blunt amendment, but this story has traction because nobody knows when Romney is sincere - when he's telling the truth, when he's flip-flopping, or when he's outright lying. Well, maybe Romney knows, but sometimes I'm not so certain even of that.

The other interesting aspect, though, is how Romney has hurt his credibility by claiming to pass every Republican litmus test, no matter that he is on the record at one point or another taking something close to an opposite stance on pretty much every litmus test issue. Romney seems to buy into the theory that he can run to the right in the primary, then pull back to a more centrist stance in the general election. I think that was more true in the past, before the ease of videotaping and the rapid online distribution of video clips highlighting contradictions, but I'll agree that at some level it's not an unreasonable assumption. People who vote in primaries tend to be more polemic than those who do not, but you need the larger population of voters to support you once you're nominated.

But here's Romney's miscalculation: Running to the right has not helped him, because the people in the "Can't we find anybody but Romney" camp don't trust him. There are few voters outside of the social conservative camp that is currently hoping for a Santorum victory who will care that Romney supports the Blunt amendment, but there are plenty of moderate Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support insurance coverage for birth control, or who get their birth control through employer-sponsored health insurance. Romney's position certainly can't help him with moderate female voters - would you trust him to do anything to protect women's rights?

Had Romney run as an honest politician, one who ran a center-right campaign with a moderate tone on social conservatism, would his present position be materially different? Even if we assume that his flip-flops on socially conservative issues, the ones that coincidentally lead to Romney's near-perfect alignment with the latest opinion polls of likely primary voters, he has demonstrated that perception is more important than reality. The religious right believes he's a moderate Republican who is possibly somewhat progressive on social issues. Republican-leaning independents and conservative Democrats hope that he's a moderate Republican who is possibly somewhat progressive on social issues. But pretty much everybody thinks he's lying.

By running as the person everybody hopes or believes him to be, he might not only have avoided looking like a mendacious demagogue, he might have worn out the opposition - once the first few woefully inadequate opponents had their day in the sun and it was clear that Romney was going to defeat them despite his admittedly socially moderate views, I suspect that it would have taken the wind out of the anti-Romney movement. But even if I'm wrong, it's difficult for me to see how he would be harmed by professing positions on the issues that key voter blocks believe he holds and being viewed as principled, as opposed to taking positions that both alienate the center and make him look habitually dishonest.

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