Mitt Romney has had deep trouble getting his engine going in the Bible Belt and the South. Exit polls from the primaries indicate that the key reason he has been doing poorly is a lack of support from evangelicals and social conservatives. Michael Walsh, in the National Review Online, accused Christians of discrimination against Mormons, saying that this was why they were reluctant to vote for Romney:
“Reluctant” — why? Nobody wants to talk about it, but one possible explanation is that Romney’s Mormonism is playing poorly in the Deep South. And while the Constitution is explicit that there can be no religious test for public office, what goes on in voters’ hearts is another thing entirely. Should Romney be the nominee and evangelicals remain resistant, the result will be disastrous for the GOP.
Walsh characterizes this as “the elephant in the room”. The problem is that many evangelicals are nearly as hostile towards Catholics as they are towards Mormons, yet they show no hesitancy about voting for Rick Santorum, and only a little hesitancy towards Newt Gingrich. Both of these men are Catholic.
A more obvious reason why social conservatives would not want to support Mitt Romney is that his record gives no indication that he is willing to fight for causes that they believe in.
If there is an elephant in the room that Romney and his supporters are guilty of ignoring, it is this video, from when Romney debated Ted Kennedy in 1994:
Then there is this letter, also from 1994, which Mitt Romney sent to Log Cabin Republicans:
While Romney says that somehow he has changed his mind on at least one of the issues under discussion–abortion–nothing from his record as governor of Massachusetts shows commitment to socially conservative causes. Rather, his record indicates that he will do whatever he thinks is popular, and at all cost avoid taking difficult stands.
During this election season, Romney has given some lip service to socially conservative causes. However, in most ways he has only done the bare minimum to try to gain conservative support, and his positions on social issues have become more conservative as the campaign has focused on more socially conservative states, showing that he really is, as Kennedy accused him of being, a multiple choice candidate.
Meanwhile, there is talk that somehow Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have ingratiated themselves with each other and reached some sort of deal–talk that Ronney has done nothing to shoot down. While Paul has denied that he has reached a deal with Romney, his own campaign manager has indicated that such a deal may in fact be possible, especially if it resulted in Rand Paul being offered the VP slot. Says one of Paul’s aides, “If you’re talking about putting Rand on the ticket, of course that would be worth delivering our people to Romney.”
Neither Ron nor Rand are social conservatives. While Rand has softened his own positions to be more acceptable to conservatives, the fact that he was named for the very antithesis of social conservatism, Ayn Rand, pretty much says it all. Given his background and his father’s maneuvering, it is right to think that Rand–like Mitt–might throw a few sops in the direction of social conservatives, but is not a social conservative to the least degree.
While Romney has not ruled out Rand Paul (or Ron Paul, for that matter) from being on the ticket, he has gone on record as ruling out the one socially conservative candidate remaining in the race, incredibly, because Romney says that he is not conservative enough:
As pointed out on the Maddow Blog:
This is just fascinating. Mitt Romney, of all people, seriously wants Fox News viewers to believe that Rick Santorum just isn’t conservative enough.
Romney’s the guy who used to support abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change. He distanced himself from Reagan, voted in a Democratic primary, helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act, and described his political views as “progressive.”
“I find it interesting that [Santorum] continues to describe himself as the real conservative”? I find it interesting that Romney continues to present himself as an arbiter of such ideological tests.
As for Santorum’s votes to fund Planned Parenthood — Republicans, including Reagan, have generally supported Planned Parenthood funding for decades — this is especially rich. Not only was Romney comfortable with Planned Parenthood funding during his term as governor, but Romney even attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser — at which Ann Romney dropped off a $150 donation to the group — during his first U.S. Senate campaign.
If nothing else, it takes real chutzpah to make arguments like this on national television and assume no one will notice.
Based upon their records, it is simply not plausible for Romney to say that Santorum is less fiscally conservative than he is. However, it took true chutzpah to impugn Santorum’s social conservative credentials. Romney’s comment was deeply offensive on several different levels. For one, he unfairly criticized someone better than himself. For another, his breathtakingly cynical remark demonstrates that he thinks social conservatives are fools who can be played by him.
Yet, this remark also shows Romney’s mindset and priorities. He is more worried about losing the support of fiscal conservatives than he is about losing the support of social conservatives.
Romney assumes that social conservatives can be taken for granted. How nice. Romney can keep making this assumption all the way to election day, if he wishes. However, unless there is some assurance that he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v Wade, that he will do more than just give lip service in ending subsidies to Planned Parenthood and in ending government interference in religion, typified by the recent mandate that religious institutions provide coverage for contraceptives and abortion pills–unless there is some assurance on these issues–Romney may never get support from many evangelicals, even if it means Obama gets reelected. They may wonder what the point is.