Excerpted from an article byThursday, Oct. 18, 2007,
In the authenticity contest underway among the GOP
presidential candidates, Mitt Romney recently boasted he was from "the Republican wing of the
Republican party." You won't find that line in Reagan's diaries or the new Barry
Goldwater film or even mumbled on the Nixon tapes. Romney was quoting Democrats. Sen. Paul Wellstone
popularized the quip when talking about his party, and Howard
Dean made it famous in the 2004 Democratic primary campaign. Republicans are allowed
to quote only one liberalJohn Kennedyand then only when talking about the benefits of tax cuts. But Romney's appropriation of
a legendary claim from the other party was perfect for the former Massachusetts governor
who, despite repeatedly asserting that he is the authentic conservative in the race, is
viewed by many as neither conservative nor authentic.
Mitt Romney has often undermined himself during the presidential campaign.
Even as he has asserted that he is anti-abortion, he has been dogged by video clips
and statements from his 1994 Senate and 2002 gubernatorial campaigns, in which he robustly defended a woman's right to have an
abortion. On several other subjects there also seem to be two stories: gun control (for/against); gays (their champion/not so much); and even Ronald Reagan himself (distance/hug). The individual changes of position have caused minor irritation
for him. The cumulative effect of them all is the big problem. Taken together, they
suggest, as a nonaffiliated veteran of Republican politics put it, "that he has no
Mitt Romney's biggest problem was supposed to be his
Mormon faith, but the polls don't show iteither in Iowa or nationally. These data could reflect the fact that on sensitive issues
such as race and religion, people don't want to give a pollster an answer that makes them
sound like a bigot. But if large numbers were truly concerned about Romney's religion,
they'd pick someone else when asked who they want to be president, and Romney wouldn't be
ahead in Iowa
Hampshire polls and climbing in South Carolina.
But ask voters about Romney's flip-flops, and they speak
out loud. In a recent Des Moines Register poll, likely caucus attendees listed Romney's multiple positions as
his biggest liabilityon par with Rudy Giuliani's pro-choice stance on abortion. In a
Pew Center poll, only 12 percent of respondents thought of Mitt Romney when the
word honest was presented to them, the lowest of the four major Republican
candidates. A Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that only 13 percent of Republicans find Mitt Romney
honest and trustworthy, also the lowest of the four major Republican candidates. A
CNN/Opinion Research poll found that 15 percent of adults found Mitt Romney to be the most
honestagain, the bottom of the field.
Like all of the big questions that dog the candidates,
this problem has been with Romney for a whileeven before the presidential race.
"He's not pro-choice or anti-choice," said Senate opponent Ted Kennedy in 1994.
"He's multiple choice." Romney hasn't been able to dispense with questions about
his constancy, and the concerns are only becoming more relevant as Republicans fight over
which candidate is a more genuine conservative.
As John Kerry learned painfully in 2004, calling someone
a phony works, no matter the topic under discussion. John McCain was the first opponent to
raise the issue during a debate with Romney about immigration. "I haven't changed my
position on even numbered years or because of the different offices I've been running
for," McCain said.
In the last week, McCain has issued the same charge again and again. In a GOP debate last week, Rudy Giuliani ended an exchange with
Romney over the line-item veto by saying, "You have to be honest with people, and you
can't fool all the people all the time.
Mitt Romney on Abortion
GovWatch: 2002: “preserve & protect” right to choose
Top Romney Flip Flops: #1. Abortion:
In October 2002, campaigning for
governorship of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney said he would “preserve and
protect” a woman’s right to choose. He now describes himself as opposing
Supreme Court had said feds should stay out of abortion
Q: Why such a dramatic and profound change after pledging never to waiver on
a woman’s right to choose?
A: I was always personally opposed to abortion,
as I think almost everyone in this nation is. And the question for me was,
what is the role of government? And it was quite theoretical and
philosophical to consider what the role of government should be in this
regard, and I felt that the Supreme Court had spoken and that government
shouldn’t be involved and let people make their own decision. That all made
a lot of sense to me. Then I became governor and the theoretical became
reality. A bill came to my desk which related to the preservation of life. I
recognized that I simply could not be part of an effort that would cause the
destruction of human lift. And I didn’t hide from that change of heart. I
recognize it’s a change. Every piece of legislation which came to my desk in
the coming years as the governor, I came down on the side of preserving the
sanctity of life.
Meet the Press:
2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Dec 16, 2007
I took action as governor to preserve the sanctity of life
Q: Do you believe life begins at conception?
A: I do. I believe from a
political perspective that life begins at conception. I don’t pretend to
know, if you will, from a theological standpoint when life begins. I’d
committed to the people of Massachusetts that I would not change the laws
one way or the other, and I honored that commitment. But each law that was
brought to my desk attempted to expand abortion rights and, in each case, I
vetoed that effort. I also promoted abstinence education in our schools. I
vetoed an effort, for instance, to give young women a morning after pill who
did not have prescriptions. So I took action to preserve the sanctity of
life. But I did not violate my word, of course.
Meet the Press:
2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Dec 16, 2007
No punishment for women who have partial birth abortions
Q: What would be the legal consequences to people who participated in
A: They would be like the consequences associated with
the bill relating to partial birth abortion which does not punish the woman.
No one I know of is calling for punishing the woman. In the case of a
doctor, the kinds of penalties would be potentially losing a license or
having some other kind of restriction. In the case of partial birth
abortion, as I recall, the penalty is a possible prison term not to exceed
two years. But generally the medical profession would immediately follow the
law. That’s not going to be an issue. And there would be a recognition that
one’s license was at risk if one violated the law.
Meet the Press:
2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Dec 16, 2007
Outlaw embryo farming, but allow using surplus embryos
Q: You previously stated: “[the] United States House of Representatives
voted for a bill that was identical to what I proposed. They voted to
provide surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization processes being used for
research and experimentation. That’s what I said I support.” Do you still
A: I have the same position. From a legal standpoint, I
would outlaw cloning to create new stem cells and I would outlaw embryo
farming. I would allow, on a private basis, the use of surplus embryos from
in vitro fertilization. In terms of funding, I think the best source of our
funding application should be in what are known as alternative methods. And
this just recent. I’ve been fighting for this for some time. But this
recently saw a major breakthrough with direct reprogramming of human adult
cells to become stem cells that can be very potent cells applied to help
cure disease and serious conditions.
Meet the Press:
2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Dec 16, 2007
FactCheck: TV ad ignores recency of conversion to pro-life
Romney’s Iowa TV ad says portrays both Romney and Huckabee as “two good
family men” who are “both pro-life.” The ad presents a too-sharp focus when
it implies that Romney and Huckabee have identical records on abortion.
It’s true that both Huckabee and Romney oppose abortion--now. But Huckabee
was pro-life while he was governor. Romney, not so much. Don’t take our word
for it. Here’s Romney at a September debate in Iowa: “I never said I was
pro-choice, but my position was effectively pro-choice. I’ve said that time
and time again. I’ve changed my position.“
We don’t begrudge Romney the right to change his mind, and he’s been open
about the fact that his position has changed. But many Iowa voters may still
be unaware of that, and this ad implies that there’s no difference between
these two candidates on abortion. That’s a stretch.
of 2007 campaign ad, “The Record” Dec 13, 2007
Was pro-choice, now proudly pro-life
I was effectively pro-choice when I ran for office. When I became governor
of Massachusetts, the first time a bill came to my life that dealt with
life, I simply could not side with--with taking a life, and I came on the
side of life. Every bill that came to my desk, every issue that related to
protecting the sanctity of life, I came down on the side of life. I’m
pro-life. I’m not going to apologize for becoming pro-life. I’m proud to be
Source: 2007 Des Moines Register
Republican Debate Dec 12, 2007
Would be delighted to sign federal ban on all abortions
Q: If hypothetically, Roe v. Wade was overturned, and the Congress passed a
federal ban on all abortions and it came to your desk, would you sign it?
A: Let me say it. I’d be delighted to sign that bill. But that’s not where
we are. That’s not where America is today. Where America is is ready to
overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states that authority. But if the
Congress got there, we had that kind of consensus in that country, terrific.
Source: 2007 GOP YouTube debate in St.
Petersburg, Florida Nov 28, 2007
Two-step process: overturn Roe; then change hearts & minds
Q: Your aides say you see ending abortion as a two-step process: rolling
back Roe v. Wade, which would leave it legal in some states; and then a
constitutional amendment to ban it nationwide. If abortion is murder, how
can you live with it being legal in some states?
A: I’d love to have an
America that didn’t have abortion. But that’s not what the American people
[want] right now. And so I’d like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and allow
the states to put in place pro-life legislation. I recognize that for many
people, that is considered an act of murder, to have an abortion. It is
without question the taking of a human life. And I believe that a civilized
society must respect the sanctity of the human life. But we have two lives
involved here--a mom, an unborn child. We have to have concern for both
lives & show the expression of our compassion & our consideration and work
to change hearts & minds, and that’s the way in my view we’ll ultimately
have a society without abortion.
2007 GOP debate at
UNH, sponsored by Fox News Sep 5, 2007
2005: Vetoed availability without Rx of morning-after pill
In 2005, Romney vetoed a bill making the morning-after pill available
without a doctor’s prescription. For Romney, it was not only about
contraception. He explained his decision in July 2005: “This bill does not
require parental consent for even young teenagers. It disregards not only
the seriousness of abortion but the importance of parental involvement.”
These vetoes were overturned by the Massachusetts State Legislature where
pro-choice Democrats hold an overwhelming majority.
Source: The Man, His Values, & His
Vision, p. 52 Aug 31, 2007
Firmly in the “legal but rare” camp
According to Pew Research on abortion, “most Americans fall in between,
preferring what might be described as a ‘legal but rare’ stance.” About 1/3
of Americans would make abortion illegal except in cases of rape or incest,
or to save a woman’s life. Most Americans share the common ground. Who wants
abortion to be legal but rare?
Mitt Romney is firmly in the “legal but rare camp” camp. Like 2/3 of
conservative Republicans, he believes abortion should be permitted in cases
of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is threatened.
- 64% of conservative Republicans
- 66% of moderate/liberal Republicans
- 59% of Moderate/conservative Democrats
- 52% of Independents
- 27% of Liberal Democrats--they don’t want to compromise.
changed his mind on abortion. He freely admits it. Ordinary citizens change
their minds, and their positions evolve in private. For public figures,
however, every video clip and interview is posted somewhere in cyberspace.
The Man, His
Values, & His Vision, p. 47-8 Aug 31, 2007
Following in Reagan’s footsteps in converting to pro-life
Q: In the debate last week, you said, “When I first ran for office [I was]
deeply opposed to abortion but [I said] I’d support the current law.” But
back then you said a lot more than just you support the current law. In
1994, you said, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this
country. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years that
we should sustain & support it.” In 2002, you said, “I will preserve and
protect a woman’s right to choose. I will not change any provisions of
Massachusetts’ pro-choice laws.“ For 8 years you said that you would protect
& respect a woman’s right to choose.
Q: Yes, that’s right. But when I
became governor I laid out in my view that a civilized society must respect
the sanctity of life. And you know what? I’m following in some pretty good
footsteps. It’s exactly what Ronald Reagan did. As governor, he was
adamantly pro-choice. He became pro-life as he experienced life. And the
same thing happened with George H. W. Bush.
Sunday: 2007 “Choosing the President” interviews
Aug 12, 2007
Iowa attack phone ads are not true; I am pro-life
Q: [to Brownback]: Your campaign has been making phone calls to Iowa voters
about Mitt Romney:
Q: Do you stand by that attack?
ANNOUNCER: Mitt Romney is telling Iowans that he is firmly pro-life.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As late as 2005, Mitt Romney
pledged to support and uphold pro-abortion policies and pass taxpayer
funding of abortions in Massachusetts. His wife, Ann, has contributed
money to Planned Parenthood. Mitt told the National Abortion Rights
Action League that, “You need someone like me in Washington.“
BROWNBACK: I certainly do. There’s one
word that describes that ad, and it’s ”truthful.“ That’s a truthful ad. And
that’s what campaigns are about: for getting the truth out, expressing the
differences between candidates.
Q: Is everything in that ad true?
ROMNEY: Virtually nothing in that ad is true. I am pro-life. That’s the
truth. Every action I’ve taken as governor of Massachusetts has been
Iowa Straw Poll debate Aug 5, 2007
Tired of holier-than-thou attitude about becoming pro-life
Q: [to Romney]: Are any of the specifics true in Sen. Brownback’s phone ad
calling you pro-choice?
ROMNEY: Abortion is a very difficult decision.
We’re involved in the lives of two people: a mom and an unborn child. I’ve
come down on the side of saying I’m in favor of life. The best way you can
learn about someone is not by asking their opponent, but ask them, “What do
you believe, and what’s your view?” And I am pro-life. And virtually every
part of that ad is inaccurate. I’m pro-life. My positions are pro-life.
BROWNBACK: You can go on YouTube and see the governor speaking himself
about where he is on this position in 1994.
ROMNEY: Look, I was pro-choice. I am pro-life. You can go back to YouTube
and look at what I said in 1994. I never said I was pro-choice, but my
position was effectively pro-choice. I changed my position. And I get tired
of people that are holier-than-thou because they’ve been pro-life longer
than I have. But I’m proud of the fact.
Iowa Straw Poll debate Aug 5, 2007
Absolute good day for America when Roe v. Wade is repealed
Q: Would the day that Roe v. Wade is repealed be a good day for America?
BROWNBACK: It would be a glorious day of human liberty and freedom.
GILMORE: Yes, it was wrongly decided.
HUCKABEE: Most certainly.
McCAIN: A repeal.
GIULIANI: It would be OK to repeal.
TANCREDO: After 40 million dead because we have aborted them in this
country, that would be the greatest day in this country’s history when that,
in fact, is overturned.
Source: 2007 GOP primary debate, at
Reagan library, hosted by MSNBC May 3, 2007
Personally pro-life, but government should not intrude
Q: In recent months, you’ve said you were “always for life,” but we’ve also
heard you say you were once “effectively pro-choice.” Which is it?
always been personally pro-life, but for me, it was a great question about
whether or not government should intrude in that decision. And when I ran
for office, I said I’d protect the law as it was, which is effectively a
Source: 2007 GOP primary debate, at
Reagan library, hosted by MSNBC May 3, 2007
Was effectively pro-choice until cloning changed his opinion
Q: You were effectively pro-choice as governor?
A: About two years ago,
when we were studying cloning in our state, I said, look, we have gone too
far. It’s a “brave new world” mentality that Roe v. Wade has given us, and I
changed my mind. I took the same course that Ronald Reagan took, and I said
I was wrong and changed my mind and said I’m pro-life. And I’m proud of
that, and I won’t apologize to anybody for becoming pro-life.
Q: Some people are going to see those changes of mind as awfully
A: When I ran for the first time, I said I was personally pro-life but
that I would protect a woman’s right to choose as the law existed. Two years
ago, as a result of the debate we had, the conclusion I reached was that
cloning and creating new embryos was wrong, and that we should, therefore,
allow our state to become a pro-life state. I believe states should have the
right to make this decision, and that’s a position I indicated in an op-ed
in the Boston Globe 2 years ago.
primary debate, at Reagan library, hosted by MSNBC May 3, 2007
Altered nuclear transfer instead of embryonic stem cells
Q: Would you expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research?
certainly will. Altered nuclear transfer, I think, is perhaps the best
A: Altered nuclear transfer creates embryo-like cells that can be used
for stem cell research. In my view, that’s the most promising source. I have
a deep concern about curing disease. I have a wife that has a serious
disease that could be affected by stem cell research and others. But I will
not create new embryos through cloning or through embryo farming, because
that will be creating life for the purpose of destroying it.
Q: And you won’t take any from these fertility clinics to use either?
A: It’s fine for that to be allowed, to be legal. I won’t use our
government funds for that. Instead, I want our governments to be used on
altered nuclear transfer.
primary debate, at Reagan library, hosted by MSNBC May 3, 2007
Breach of Constitution for justices to adjust Constitution
Romney said this about the Supreme Court and potential justice nominees: “I
believe the Constitution embodies the values that the Founders thought were
critical for a successful nation to survive; therefore, justices have to
hold true to the Constitution to maintain the foundation of values that made
it successful. I want justices who will follow the Constitution & will not
add to it, not subtract from it but instead look to the Constitution & the
values of the Founders to set the course for the nation. We have a process
for changing the Constitution. It is an amendment process. The people are
very much involved in that process. I find it a breach of the constitutional
path for justices to effectively change the Constitution rather than allow
the constitutionally devised processes for making those adjustments occur. I
thought both Justices Robert and Alito were ideal examples for what we
should select for justices going forward. I know I depart from my liberal
friends on this front.“
A Mormon in the
White House?, by Hugh Hewitt, p.101-102 Mar 12, 2007
Now firmly pro-life, despite 2002 tolerance for abortion
In New Hampshire on Thursday, he deflected conservative concerns about his
record on gay marriage and abortion. He said he now describes himself as
“firmly pro-life,” despite citing his tolerance for abortion rights during
his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, after researching the embryonic stem cell
Source: CNN.com, “Inside Politics” Dec
Anti-abortion views have “evolved & deepened” while governor
When he ran for governor in 2002, Romney pledged not to change the state’s
abortion laws, despite his personal opposition. But his veto Monday of an
emergency contraceptives bill & his comments in recent months have fueled
speculation among critics that Romney is hardening his opposition to
abortion and other sensitive social issues to gain support from GOP
conservatives. Romney says his anti-abortion views have “evolved and
deepened” since he took office, colored in part by the debate over embryonic
stem cell research.
“In considering the issue of embryo cloning and embryo farming, I saw
where the harsh logic of abortion can lead--to the view of innocent new life
as nothing more than research material or a commodity to be exploited,”
Romney wrote in an opinion piece in Tuesday’s Boston Globe. He also said he
believes each state should decide whether to allow abortion, rather than
having the “one size fits all” precedent of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973
Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.
Source: Associated Press on NewsMax.com
Jul 27, 2005
Personally against abortion, but pro-choice as governor
Romney was asked to clarify his position on abortion. Romney’s stance
appeared to have changed between his 1994 campaign against Sen. Kennedy and
when he moved to Utah. He recently told a Salt Lake City newspaper that he
preferred not to be labeled “pro- choice.”
“On a personal basis, I don’t
favor abortion,” he said. “However, as governor of the commonwealth, I will
protect a woman’s right to choose under the laws of the country and the
commonwealth. That’s the same position I’ve had for many years.”
Source: Erik Arvidson, Lowell Sun Mar
For safe, legal abortion since relative’s death from illegal
Romney disclosed that he became committed to legalized abortion after a
relative died during an illegal abortion. The disclosure came after Romney,
who said he is personally opposed to abortion, was asked to reconcile his
beliefs with his political support for abortion rights. “It is since that
time that my family will not force our beliefs on that matter,” He said the
abortion made him see “that regardless of one’s beliefs about choice, you
would hope it would be safe and legal.”
Source: Joe Battenfeld in Boston Herald
Oct 26, 1994
Stem cell research lofty goals don’t justify destroying life
Romney adopted the “pro-life” label after his battle over stem cell
research. Ann Romney has multiple sclerosis. Romney, who not surprisingly
cites the diagnosis of his wife’s disease as one of the greatest blows of
his life, is nevertheless alarmed by the aggressive program of embryonic
stem cell research consortiums. He has taken a stand against the Harvard
Stem Cell Institute.
The Harvard Stem Cell Institute was seeking legal
protection for an embryo production line for the purpose of creating and
harvesting stem cells, and Romney refused his support. He said, “Lofty goals
do not justify the creation of life for experimentation or destruction.”
Romney’s views would permit for research the use of embryos about to be
destroyed by their parents; this puts him at odds with President Bush’s more
restrictive position. Romney has never supported state-funded research on
embryonic stem cells, and is a believer in the efficacy of alternative
methods of producing stem cells.
A Mormon in the
White House?, by Hugh Hewitt, p.111-114 Mar 12, 2007
Defining mistake: supported abortion law despite opposing it
Q: What is the defining mistake of your life and why?
A: Probably from a
political standpoint and a personal standpoint, the greatest mistake was
when I first ran for office, being deeply opposed to abortion but saying, “I
support the current law,” which was pro-choice and effectively a pro-choice
position. That was just wrong. And when I became a governor and faced a
life-and-death decision as a governor, I came down on the side of life. That
was a mistake before that.
Source: 2007 GOP Iowa Straw Poll debate
Aug 5, 2007
Would welcome overturning Roe v. Wade
Q: Would you welcome the overruling of Roe v. Wade by the Court?
A: Yes. I
would like to see each state be able to make its own decision regarding
abortion rather than have a one-size-fits-all blanket pronouncement by the
Q: Would you have a “litmus test” of any sort when it came to nominees
for the Supreme Court?
A: I think we’d all like to apply a litmus test. Each of us would like to
say, “Here are all the decisions that are going to come up. How will you
vote?” But I don’t think that’s the process that you’re going to see
employed by me or, frankly, by others as well. Doing it that way would make
it very difficult for the nominee to be confirmed. There will not be a
litmus test. Instead, there will be a philosophical test, which is: “Is this
a person who follows the law, who abides by the Constitution, who will
strictly construe the Constitution as intended, or is this a person who
looks to expand upon the Constitution to ‘write’ laws without the benefit of
A Mormon in the
White House, by Hugh Hewitt, p.103-104 Mar 12, 2007
Committed to not change law on abortion as Gov., and did not
The pro-life community is sophisticated and educated, and quite capable of
understanding how a pro-life politician in Massachusetts has to advocate for
the possible, and must not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
“I am pro-life,” Romney told me pointedly. He went on to explain how his
campaigns have provided fodder for his 2008 opponents. “In my 1994 debate
with Senator Kennedy he said that I was ‘multiple choice’ for which he got a
good laugh because I would not say I was pro-choice. I said what I would do
if I were elected senator, the same thing I said when I was running for
governor. As governor, I indicated that I would not change the law as it
related to abortion. I would keep it the same. I have had roughly four
provisions that have reached my desk which would have changed the laws as
they relate to abortion, all of which would have expanded abortion rights. I
vetoed each of those. My record as governor has been very clearly a pro-life
A Mormon in the
White House?, by Hugh Hewitt, p.110 Mar 12, 2007
Opposes Roe v Wade, but won’t tamper with abortion laws
- Opposes Roe v. Wade.
- Believes that abortion should be banned in all cases except rape,
incest, or to save the life of the mother.
- Vetoed an emergency contraception bill in July 2005.
- However: Has kept campaign promise not to tamper with state abortion
- Said in 1994: “I had a dear, close family relative that was very
close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. We will not force
our beliefs on others. And you will not see me wavering on that.”
Source: CivilLiberty.about.com profile
of Romney Dec 1, 2006
Vetoed emergency contraception for rape victims
Massachusetts’ Legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic, and Romney’s first
term as governor barely touched on the issues dear to social conservatives
In May, Romney vetoed legislation to expand stem cell research because it
allowed the cloning of human embryos for use in stem cell experiments--a
practice Romney said amounts to creating life in order to destroy it. The
Legislature overrode the veto.
His veto of the emergency contraception measure is also likely to be
overridden. That bill requires hospital emergency room doctors to offer the
medication to rape victims, and would make it available without prescription
Romney is on a list of possible contenders for the White House in 2008.
Others include Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Sam
Brownback of Kansas and George Allen of Virginia, Senate Majority Leader
Bill Frist of Tennessee, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former New
York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Source: Associated Press on NewsMax.com
Jul 27, 2005
Vetoed stem cell research bill
This House vote affirmed passage of the bill supporting stem cell research
as originally passed by the House and Senate, rejecting Governor Romney’s
proposed amendments and veto, and avoiding delays of implementation.
Source: MassScorecard.org Bill S. 2039 ;
roll call 69, passed 112-42 May 31, 2005
Endorsed legalization of RU-486
- Favored basic Roe v. Wade abortion rights, though would not endorse
a specific version of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would codify
those court-established rights as federal law
- Said he would leave the matter of Medicaid funding for abortion to
- Endorsed legalization of RU-486, the abortion-inducing drug.
Source: Boston Globe review of 1994
campaign issues Mar 21, 2002
HOW TO FABRICATE A CONSERVATIVE
Excerpted from an article by Ken Silverstein of Harpers.
Mitt Romney keeps his South
Carolina headquarters in a single-story building at one end of Gervais Street, which is
Columbias version of Washingtons K Street, lined with the offices of local
lobbyists, P.R. consultants, and other fixers and power brokers. The main room of Romney
HQ is decorated with hand-painted red-and-blue signs, mementos from previous campaign
events: mitt is my hero! mitts the man! mitts my pick! I visited on a steamy
Monday night in late July, a time of year when few South Carolinians are interested in
politics and fewer still want their evening interrupted by pitches for a presidential
primary six months away. But eleven volunteers, mostly college students, were hunched in
cubicles spread around the office, diligently placing cold calls to area residents. Boxes
of pepperoni pizza from Dominos (a company Romney backed when he ran the investment
firm Bain Capital) were piled on a table against a wall.
Senator Jim DeMint asked me to call you, said
one young woman, reading from a script into a cell phone. After running through a list of
Romneys accomplishmentsrescuing the 2000 Olympics in Salt Lake City,
cutting a $3 billion deficit without raising taxes while governor of
Massachusettsshe asked if her listener would be willing to join DeMint, South
Carolinas junior senator, in supporting Romney over his Republican rivals. There was
Well, I understand, maam, theres a long
way to go before the election, the volunteer replied. I just hope youll
keep us in mind.
Directing the phone-bank operation was Terry Sullivan, a
thirty-three-year-old political consultant. As we spoke in his office at the back of the
headquarters, Sullivandressed in a blue-and-white striped shirt, jeans, and
flip-flopspulled from a laptop on his desk a smattering of fund-raising numbers, TV
advertising rates for various states, and other political detritus. Theres a
poll out today that shows McCains got 10 percent in South Carolina, and he had 36 in
April, he said. Rudys got 28 percent, Fred Thompson has 27, and
weve only got 7, but [Newt] Gingrich is included and that pulls straight from
usthose are Mitt Romney voters.
South Carolina is known for its hard-charging political
consultants, and Sullivan is undeniably a rising star. After growing up in North Carolina
and serving as youth coordinator for Jesse Helmss final Senate run in 1996, Sullivan
relocated to South Carolina the following year to work on a congressional campaign. Now he
is a partner of TTS Strategies, the consulting firm run by J. Warren Tompkins, perhaps
South Carolinas most prominent Republican operative and Romneys chief handler
here. Although he was reluctant to go into details about who exactly was being targeted
tonight by the campaigns phone-bankers, Sullivan defined them broadly as hard
cores. He elaborated: We set out to identify and recruit grassroots activists,
because no one else cares about the presidential election at this point. These are people
who are just about guaranteed voters, the type who turn out even for special elections.
Political campaigns are checkers, not chess. Its largely about turnout, and that
means coming out for a candidate they are excited about or to stop a candidate that
theyre angry about.
For at least two decades, our political landscape has
been dominated by consultants; but there is no presidential campaign this year whose
success or failure so will depend on media managers, marketing strategists, and political
gurus as that of Mitt Romney. Unlike his chief competitors for the Republican nomination,
he started out with a fairly low national profile and hence has needed to be introduced
and marketed to a national audience. And the task of reformulating and repackaging the
Romney brandfrom the moderate Republican governor of the most liberal state in the
Union to a red-meat social conservative and heir to Reaganhas been entrusted to an
army of consultants far larger than that of any of his challengers. Campaign disclosure
records are convoluted and poorly categorized, so its difficult to make a precise
inventory. But based on filings with the Federal Election Commission, as of this summer,
Romneys campaign has employed more than a hundred different consultants, making
combined payments to them of at least $11 millionroughly three times the amount
spent by John McCain or Rudy Giuliani. Much of that money paid for the creation and
placement of TV ads through Romneys media consultant and chief strategist, Alex
Castellanos, but the campaign also spent heavily on polling, political strategy, and voter
A strong showing in South Carolina is critical to
Romneys ambitions. Since 1980, the year of the first primary here, no Republican has
ever gained his partys nomination without winning the state, which is traditionally
seen as the Gateway to Dixie and a key indicator of Southern support. If
Romneywho prior to running for president was deemed so moderate in his politics that
Human Events magazine put him on its list of the top ten Republicans in Name
Onlycan win over South Carolinas conservative electorate, it augurs well
for his chances in states where the party faithful are less fervent. It is a daunting
sales job, but Sullivan was confident that Romneys poll numbers in the state would
eventually rise. Everyone here knows Giuliani and McCain, and who doesnt like
Arthur Branch? he said with a smile, referring to the character Thompson plays on
the television show Law & Order. We havent spent money yet to get
[our message] out.
He was talking mostly about TV advertising, but only a
month later, a striking reminder came to light of just how South Carolina consultants tend
to get their messages out. The Washington Post discovered that an antiFred
Thompson smear site, entitled PhoneyFred.org, was being run by an executive of TTS
Strategies. The site was immediately taken down; Romney made pains to distance himself
from it, and somuch less believablydid Tompkins, who claimed an employee had
conceived and run the site without his knowledge. Whatever the truth of the sites
origin, the PhoneyFred episode perhaps most vividly showed that when one is contemplating
how to sell Mitt Romney, the problem of phoniness can never be far from the brain.
Earlier this year, the Boston Globe obtained
a copy of an internal campaign PowerPoint presentation that outlined Romneys
strengths and weaknesses as he embarked on his presidential bid. One pageentitled
Primal Code for Brand
Romneyexplained that Romney should market
himself as a foil to such Massachusetts liberals as Senators Edward Kennedy and John
Kerry, and also run against such enemies as Hollywood, France, and moral
relativism. Problems identified by the campaign included the perception that Romney
would not make a tough wartime leader and the possibility that voters would be spooked by
his Mormon religion.
The presentation also acknowledged the problematic view
that Romney is a phony and a political opportunist; but that view
is due at least in part to the fact that by any reasonable standard its true. The
basic contours of his opportunism are by now fairly well known. During Romneys
unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate against Edward Kennedy in 1994, he espoused liberal
beliefs on a number of social issues. A politically damaging clip from a campaign debate
that year has surfaced, inevitably, on YouTube; it shows Romney posing as an advocate for
gays, women, and minorities, andin perhaps his gravest sacrilegedistancing
himself from the political legacy of Ronald Reagan. Romney, Brent Bozell wrote the day
after the debate in a piece for UPI, had demonstrated very clearly . . . that he has
more in common with liberal Democrats than he does with Conservatives.
During the 1994 campaign, Romneys then (and
current) political consultant Charles Manning described Kennedy as a political opportunist
on abortion. He was pro-life before Roe v. Wade and now hes
changed, Manning said. Mitt has always been consistent in his pro-choice
position. Manning was citing a twenty-three-year-old letter as evidence that Kennedy
was a hypocrite. Campaign foes of the now pro-life Romney dont need to go back
nearly as far to do the same to him. In 2002, a Democratic opposition-research specialist
named Jason Stanford was hired by a pro-choice group to research a number of Republican
candidates nationwide. In the end, the group decided Romney was too liberal to oppose.
He wasnt pure on choice, but they thought he was saying the right thing from a
liberal, Democratic perspective, Stanford told me. And these are 100
percentersyoure either for us or against us.
Its not just Romneys flexibility on the
issues that troubles people. A related problem is the sense that whatever his political
convictions may be, hes not passionate about them. As with the charge of political
opportunism, there appears to be some truth to that perception. Religion, family,
and business were his focus, a person who worked for Romney in a previous campaign
told me. He didnt have strong opinions on the major issues of the day.
This person, who admires Romney but is not supporting him in his presidential bid, found
it frustrating to see him now veer so sharply to the right, particularly on immigration.
He knows better, because he understands business and the economy and trade, he
said. Its an easy political position for him to take and a hard one for McCain
and the president, who was governor of Texas. My guess is that he thought about the pros
and cons, made a calculation, and picked a spot further out on the political
The image of slickness is heightened by Romneys
appearance and persona, which might be genuine butbecause he seems like a
computer-generated compositeinvariably appears contrived. Everything about Romney
looks and sounds manufactured: the pretty blonde wife and five Leave It to Beaver
sons, the jutting Dick Tracy jaw, the ramrod-straight posture, the say cheese
smile, and the Reaganesque hair, which even the campaign PowerPoint worried might be too
perfect. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Romney had spent several hundred dollars
of campaign funds for the ministrations of Hidden Beauty, a California company that
describes itself as a mobile beauty team for hair, makeup and mens grooming
and spa services. This did not help the governors reputation for being a
prepackaged candidate, though Stacy Andrews, who owns Hidden Beauty, said he barely needed
makeup. Hes already tan, she told reporters. We basically put a
drop of foundation on him . . . and we powdered him a little bit.
Romneys speeches and public appearances seem
particularly vapid. There is no place that is more important to the future strength
of America than the American home, he said during a South Carolina stop. The
work that goes on within the walls of a home is the most important work that is ever done
in America. And even by the debased standards of contemporary political propaganda,
his advertising looks remarkably hokey. Of particular note is a thirteen-minute,
faux-cinéma-vérité video, posted on the campaign website, that shows Romney and his
family sitting in their living room and having a supposedly spontaneous, unrehearsed
conversation about whether Dad should run for president. The conversation took place last
Christmas, and even though it was by then obvious to the entire country that he was
running, Romney is seen dutifully taking down the pros and cons on a writing pad.
Some voters, understandably, question what Romney truly
stands for, if anything. Conservatives in particular seem unconvinced of his sincerity,
and that could be fatal in a state like South Carolina. We may not be the smartest
people in the country, but we know how to spot a fake, a political consultant and
popular blogger named Will Folks replied instantly when I asked why Romney had, at least
until then, fared poorly in state polls.
Political consultants probably have a more exalted
position in South Carolina than anywhere else in the country. The reasons for that
arent entirely clear, but it likely has something to do with the states small
size and tight political networks, both of which have allowed consultants to emerge as
power brokers. Its also probably connected to the legacy of Lee Atwater, one of the
states most famous political figures. Atwater was not a policy wonk, he was a
strategist, Lee Bandy, a longtime columnist and reporter for The State, the
Columbia daily newspaper, told me. And his strategy was to destroy his opponent. He
was good at not leaving a trail. Id tell him, Lee, I know you did it, but I
cant find your fingerprints.
There are bitter rivalries among the big-name players,
and consequently races here tend to be particularly hard-fought. Warren Tompkinss
chief adversary is Richard Quinn Sr., who ran McCains state campaign in 2000 and is
doing so again this time around. Each has a loyal circle of associates, and state
politicos frequently are labeled as belonging to one camp or the other. Quinn tends to be
the more conservative of the twohe led the battle to keep the Confederate flag atop
the capitol dome, founded a neo-Confederate magazine called Southern Partisan, and
worked for the presidential campaigns of Pat Robertson in 1988 and Pat Buchanan in
1996but the feud between them is personal, not ideological. Six years ago, Senator
Lindsay Graham hired them both as a means of preventing internecine campaign warfare.
The power of the consultant class has contributed to
South Carolinas reputation as a swamp of dirty politics. In 1980, Atwater served as
a consultant to G.O.P. congressional candidate Floyd Spence in his race against Tom
Turnipseed, a heavily favored Democrat. Turnipseed had suffered from depression as a
teenager and undergone electroshock therapy; Atwater ensured that became a campaign issue
by planting a fake reporter at a press conference who innocently inquired as to whether
Turnipseed had ever had psychotic treatment. In comments to reporters, Atwater
remarked that Turnipseed had been hooked up to jumper cables one too many
times. Spence won; the Republican National Committee soon hired Atwater.
A common practice in state politics has been the
exploitation of race and religion. In both cases, it drew upon intense, visceral
fears on the part of large numbers of white voters that they were facing a life and death
struggle, first to maintain white supremacy and later to prevent the rise of a godless
political culture, says Dan Carter, a former professor of American history at the
University of South Carolina. Rod Shealy, who once worked under Atwater and is currently
considered by many South Carolina insiders to be the smartest and shrewdest of the
states consultants, gained a bit of national notoriety in 1990, when he was running
the campaign of his sister, Sherry Martschink, a candidate for lieutenant governor. Shealy
was looking to increase the Republican primary turnout of racially conservative
low-country voters, a group largely sympathetic to Martschink. To do so, he recruited
Benjamin Hunt Jr., an unemployed black fisherman, to run for Congress in the Republican
primary against incumbent Arthur Ravenel Jr. Shealy paid Hunts filing fee, gave him
$500, and mailed out thousands of hunt for congress leaflets showing the candidate with a
Kentucky Fried Chicken sign in the background. Many of us heard about Rods
story and thought, There but for the grace of God go I, Terry Sullivan
said with a laugh when the subject came up. Its one of those harebrained
schemes that you dream up in the middle of the night and wonder, Would that be
Given the states history of political dirty tricks,
it wasnt exactly a surprise when the PhoneyFred.org story emerged in September. The
site ripped Thompson as a fake conservative, bestowing on him such labels as Phoney
Fred, Fancy Fred, Flip-Flop Fred, Moron Fred,
and Playboy Fred. Tompkins said the site was solely the work of an employee,
Wesley Donehue, who (so Tompkins and Romneys staff claimed) did not work directly
for the campaigndespite the fact that Romney had retained not only TTS (whose
daily operations Donehue was running, according to the firms own
literature) but also a direct-mail company, where Donehue worked. But Tompkins and
Sullivan held firm in denying their own involvement, and as of press time they were still
employed by the Romney campaign. [Q]uite frankly I am very internet
dysfunctional, Tompkins claimed in an email after the story broke. Anyone who
knows me would laugh at the prospect of my even being involved in such an
This past summer, I visited Tompkins at his
twelfth-floor office on Gervais Street, overlooking the state capitol. National
consultants dont understand the nuances of South Carolina, he told me.
We understand the state, the voters, how to reach them, and how to motivate them.
And when you hire me, you get my network, my friends and associates, the people who go
where I go.
Of the dozen or so consultants I met in South Carolina,
Tompkins is the only one who looks as if he would fit in as well in Washington as at home.
Smooth and corporate, he wore a stylish blue suit and snappy, polished dress shoes.
Photographs on his office walls include shots of Tompkins with former South Carolina
Senator Strom Thurmond, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, all past clients. Along with
Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, Tompkins was a key architect of Bushs victory over
McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary. That race is often seen as the ugliest one of
modern times, with rumors spreadoften via anonymous flyers, phones without caller
ID, and untraceable email addressesthat McCain had fathered an illegitimate black
child, that his wife was a drug addict, and that he favored removing tax-exempt status
One of Tompkinss primary jobs in that campaign was
to mobilize the religious right for Bush. The first thing we had to do was build a
wall between McCain and the social conservatives, Tompkins later explained. If
we didnt do that, we were dead. Thats why we went to Bob Jones, by which
he meant Bushs notorious visit to the Christian university that then had a
longstanding ban on interracial dating. And in a meeting of Bushs high-level South
Carolina strategists, Tompkins advocated a general hard-line approach. We
arent going to pussyfoot around, Tompkins told the group. We play it
different down here. Were not dainty, if you get my drift. But when I asked
him about South Carolinas reputation for dirty pool, he shrugged it off. Our
goal, he told me, is to win within taste, reason, and the law.
For the most part, Tompkins sees Romney as an easy sell.
You need three things to win: a messenger, a message, and money, he said.
Hes bright, articulate, clean, has good moral character, and looks good on TV.
Hes the complete and total package. Not to make a comparison to Ronald Reagan, but
he has the same qualities: hes got a good sense of humor and is a great
communicator. The flip-flop charges were not an issue, said Tompkins, who argued
that Romneys only real inconsistency was on the issue of abortion. He flat
changed his position. That will be acceptable, because since Roe v. Wade
weve been seeking converts. Hes a success storythat will be a plus for
The only worry in Tompkinss mind was the
governors current state of residence. Since I was a kid, Massachusetts has
been the whipping boy down here, he said. JFK was from there and Teddy,
Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, Barney Frank. When all else fails, you try to link your
opponent to Massachusetts. We have to sell his record there. He got elected as a
Republican and did things the right way. He cut taxes, solved the health-care crisis, and
put business principles ahead of expansion of government.
Tompkins sees Romneys strategic position in South
Carolina as being formidable. In his view, Giuliani cant win the primary because of
his stance on abortion and gay rights, not to mention his three marriages and general lack
of family values. If its Romney versus Giuliani, we win if we do our job
right, he said, and one could almost hear the wheels turning in his mind at the
delicious prospect of that matchup. Social groups, right-to-life organizations, the
Bob Jones crowd are all sitting on the sidelines, but Rudy scares them, and when a
conservative alternative comes to the top, they will move there. If its a four-way
race, 35 percent wins, and the question is where do you get it. Its all about
organizing, finding the voters, and making sure they vote. Were trying to win the
war of the activists, and were doing well so far.
Asked about the Democratic race, Tompkins didnt
hesitate to pick Hillary Clinton as the likely nominee. With Hillary we could gin up
the vote, but it would be a mistake to underestimate her, he said. Shell
have the money and she has the best people. They are good, tough, and ruthless, and will
do whatever they need to win. One gathered that this, from Tompkins, was the highest
In 1988, Time magazine ran a cover story
entitled Its the Year of the Handlers, which noted that more than
any other race in history, this has become a narrow-gauge contest between two
disciplined teams of political professionals. The magazine complained that the
foremost goal of the campaigns of both George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis was to
prevent their candidates from uttering a spontaneous thought in public, and
that backstage puppeteers were directing the entire race.
Something, Time concluded, has truly gone awry in 1988. It
was the year that Lee Atwater unleashed the infamous ad about Willie Horton, the black
convict who terrorized a white couple while out on a weekend pass from a Massachusetts
prison; the ad is widely credited with clinching Bushs victory. Ever since then, the
tough, savvy campaign consultantfrom James Carville to Karl Rovehas become a
standard character in any presidential-campaign narrative.
What has changed in the past two decades is the sheer
quantity of different handlers who massage the entire electoral process from announcement
to inauguration. Campaign & Elections magazine publishes an annual directory of
political consultants, and the 2007 edition lists thousands of practitioners, in
categories that include events planning, crisis management, direct mail, fund-raising,
GOTV (Get Out the Vote), grassroots strategy, Internet, mailing and phone lists, speech
training, media buying, polling, voice-over talent, and voter registration. All of this
has in turn contributed to the ever-rising costs of campaigns. A study last year by the
Center for Public Integrity found that political-consulting firms received combined
payments of $1.85 billion for federal campaigns during the 20032004 election cycle.
In the case of the 2008 Romney campaign, the roster
includes a host of speechwriters, among them Matt Rees, who served in the George W. Bush
White House producing speeches for the president and for National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice. Then there are the finance consultants, paid to strengthen Romneys
fund-raising effort (and thereby allow him to hire more consultants); these firms include
the California-based Davis Group, which worked for Arnold Schwarzeneggers
gubernatorial campaign and for Bush/Cheney 2000. Romney has employed a number of firms to
stage his campaign events, among them Political Productions, which was paid $20,800 to
help choreograph his announcement ceremony in February. The firm is headed by David
Grossman, who has handled rallies for President Bush, produced and designed the 2001
inaugural parade, and helped prepare the Desert Storm victory celebration in Washington
during the term of George H.W. Bush. (Political Productions is also, according to its
website, the leader in confetti services for the political production market,
and its team of professional confetti-releasers assures that a synchronized
event will come off flawlessly with all elements occurring on cue when and
where you want. With only 20 to 30 seconds following each speech available for a headline
photo opportunity or a video lead-in clip, why chance your production to anyone but the
leader in political production?)
In an especially calculated move, the Romney campaign has
invested heavily in winning local straw polls around the country, which dont
necessarily measure popular support as much as organization and financial resources.
Nonetheless, victory can win a news cycles worth of attention and hence be used to
hype the candidates supposed popularity and momentum. In Iowa, Romney hired Nicole
Schlinger, founder of Capitol Resources, Inc., a G.O.P.-event-management firm, as his
straw-poll director. She helped orchestrate Romneys triumph at the Ames Straw Poll,
which was achieved by shelling out huge sums of money to buy supporters tickets for
the event, arranging a fleet of buses to bring them in and catering a barbecue lunch to
feed them, financing a direct-mail campaign, and paying fees to dozens of
super-volunteers who promoted Romney (not to mention more than $2 million in
television ads in Iowa and roughly $1 million more for organizational support, which
included the $191,000 Schlinger was paid). All this bought Romney 31.5 percent of the
ballots cast in Ames4,516 voters, which means the campaign spent at least $650 per
To handle opposition research, the campaign has engaged
Barbara Comstocka lawyer who worked for former Attorney General John
Ashcroftat the price of $15,000 per month. Comstock honed her skills as research
director at the Republican National Committee and before that worked for the House
Government Reform Committee when its head, Representative Dan Burton, was leading
investigations into the Clinton-era Democratic fund-raising scandals and trying to prove
that White House counsel Vince Foster did not commit suicide but was murdered.
Comstocks talents were on display this summer during an appearance on Hardball,
when she essentially argued that Senator Barack Obamas support for
age-appropriate sex education meant that he favored educating kindergartners
about masturbation and homosexuality, and possibly abortion as well. There are more
important issues that we need to be spending our money on other than kindergarten sex
education and funding abortions for everybody, Comstock said.
The list of Romneys consultants gets longer. There
is the direct-mail specialist Stephen Meyers of SCM Associates; Gary Marx, who works for
Ralph Reed at Century Strategies and rounds up social-conservative support for the
campaign, as he did for Bush/Cheney in 2004; pollster and focus-group guru Jan van
Lohuizen, who worked for the Bush Administration; and Get Out the Vote specialist Claire
Austin. Then come the hordes of local specialists hired to help Romney navigate the
terrain in individual states, especially ones that loom large in the primary schedule. In
Florida, the campaign hired political strategist Sara Bradshaw, who is to Governor Jeb
Bush what Karl Rove was to President Bush. In New Hampshire, where fiscal conservatism is
a more potent force than social conservatism, he hired as advisers moderates like Rich
Killion and Tom Rath. And in South Carolina, where religious activists have the upper
hand, he hired not only Sullivan and Tompkins but several other brand-name conservatives.
In seeking to woo conservatives, Romney has also
used his personal PACthe Commonwealth Political Action Committeeto contribute
lavishly to several national pro-life groups, the Federalist Society, the National
Review, and the Heritage Foundation, among others. In South Carolina, Romney set up a
branch of the PAC all the way back in 2004. (He started branches in Iowa, New Hampshire,
Michigan, and Arizona at the same time.) Since then, the state branchwith guidance
from a number of consulting firms, including DC Navigators, a top Washington-based
grouphas run up expenditures of roughly $518,000. Recipients in South Carolina
include dozens of state representatives as well as Lieutenant Governor André Bauer
($3,500) and Attorney General Henry McMaster ($1,000). Romney has ladled $9,500 on the
state Republican Party, $3,500 on the state Senate G.O.P. caucus, and $7,000 on the House
caucus, and has sent tens of thousands of dollars in total to numerous county-level party
Romneys game plan in South Carolina depends on
winning a large share of the social-conservative vote, which makes up at least a third,
and perhaps even two fifths, of the states G.O.P. electorate. To that end, his PAC
has also funded the Palmetto Family Council, which, according to its website, works
in the centers of influence (church, government, media, academia, and business) to present
biblical principles through research, communication and networking. Another $5,000
was delivered from Romneys PAC to an organization sponsoring a statewide ballot
initiative, passed in 2006, that added an amendment banning gay marriage to the state
constitution. The PAC also sent money to South Carolina Citizens for Life ($500), South
Carolina Club for Growth ($1,000), a school-choice group called South Carolinians for
Responsible Government ($1,000), a Republican GOTV effort called South Carolina Victory
($2,000), and a group of conservative school-board candidates in Charleston ($2,000)
called, humorously enough, The A-Team. (One pities the fool who might oppose
them.) Moreover, the Romney campaign in June formed a national faith and values
steering committee that includes four South Carolinians, among them a pastor, Mark
White, and a Christian political activist, Dee Benedict. Both White and Benedictwhom
Romney also put on the payroll as a consultantare from upstate, the heart of South
To ensure that all this goodwill gets translated into
votes, Romneys campaign has retained Drew McKissick, a former board member of the
Christian Coalition and state director for the campaign to ban gay marriage. If he
[Romney] wins Iowa and New Hampshire, it puts huge pressure on the other candidates,
he told me over coffee at a Starbucks on Gervais Street, a few blocks from his office.
South Carolina becomes a fire wall for them to stop him.
Like Romney, McKissick is perfectly groomed, with not a
single hair askew. Hes worked as a consultant since 1990his first campaign was
a race for county coronerand has arranged private meetings for Romney with Southern
Baptists, charismatics, fundamentalists, and other religious conservatives. I help
the campaign with communications and messaging towards that sector of the party, he
told me. I network with people I know around the state and help them decide who
theyll support. Thats a conversation best had in small groups. Building a
campaign is like throwing a rock in the pond. Theres a big ripple and then smaller
ripples outward. Were focusing on the first few rippleskey leaders within
church and community, people who have networks of influence and who other people listen
McKissick helps the Romney campaign develop materials
targeted to social conservatives, such as a packet, mailed to a small group of religious
activists, that included a cover letter under his name. (McKissick and Terry Sullivan both
told me I could get a copy of the letter but in the end declined to send it.) He also
created a website, Christian Conservatives for Romney, that includes news on the campaign,
Romney videos, and summaries of the governors positions on such issues as
abortion & life, traditional marriage, protecting our
children, and free speech. As laid out on the website, Romneys
position on the final item is largely confined to deploring the McCain-Feingold
campaign-finance law, which is loathed by conservatives everywhere and has cost McCain
dearly in his own extensive efforts to woo the Republican right.
Some religious voters will never see Romney as the ideal
candidate, McKissick acknowledged. His goal is to make sure that those people are
comfortable enough with the governor that they will turn to him in the event that their
first pickMcKissick didnt name names but was certainly thinking of Sam
Brownback and Mike Huckabee, whose conservative credentials are far more solid than
Romneysdrops out. There is a segment of the party that is looking for
purity and is ?leery of anyone who might not meet that ideal standard, he continued.
Im trying to alleviate fears that he doesnt measure up.
Doubts about Romney will diminish as the campaigns
advertising kicks in, McKissick believes. Communications is the primary purpose of
any campaign. The message with this segment of the party is shared values. What values do
you have that will carry forward in the campaign? Thats more important than a
ten-point plan. If I know his core values, I can more or less figure out where hell
be on the issues. Thats more important than where he goes to church on
If Romney retains his current lead in the polls and
wins New Hampshire and Iowa, a victory in South Carolinas primary could propel him
toward the nomination. If he performs less well than expected in the two key early states,
hell be even more desperate for a good showing here. At least through mid-September,
though, Romney had failed to find his footing; despite repeated visits to South Carolina,
and at least $1 million spent on advertising and organization, he remained mired in or
near single digits in the polls behind Giuliani, Thompson, and McCain. He will likely rise
in the polls, especially with a major TV advertising campaign planned for the fall, but
the question remains how high.
The problems holding him back were all identified in the
campaigns PowerPoint presentation: the Massachusetts background, the image of
slickness, the fears about his religion, and, above all, mistrust of his ideological
transformation. Romney and his handlers portray him as having undergone a political
conversion, but they cant point to any convincing catalyst. There was no religious
epiphany (as, for example, with George W. Bush) or political awakening (as with Ronald
Reagan, a New Deal Democrat who joined the Republican Party in 1962 and backed Barry
Goldwater for president two years later, which at the time was hardly a politically savvy
move). With Romney, theres merely been the recent espousal of positions
diametrically opposed to his earlier ones, feeding the suspicion that his political shifts
are more reflective of his ambition than of his convictions.
In Mount Pleasant, at a dockside restaurant just across
the bay from Charleston, I met with Cyndi Mosteller, a social conservative who served
until recently as head of her county Republican Party and before that as vice chair of the
state G.O.P. I had expected her to exhibit a conservative persona that matched her
politics, but Mosteller, bubbly and energetic, had hair streaked with reddish highlights
and wore a sleeveless black-and-white dress with high heels. We took a window table and
watched shrimp boats bobbing on the water as we talked about the race in South Carolina.
She had started out as a McCain backer but opposed his views on issues like
embryonic-stem-cell research and immigration, and left his campaign over the summer.
Giuliani is anathema to her. Weve worked hard for years to hold the line on
Judeo-Christian ethics, and it would be difficult for conservatives to cast our vote,
which is our trust, for someone who disagrees with us, she said.
But Mosteller (who not long afterward would declare her
support for Fred Thompson) is most scornful of Romney. Its a question of
trust, she said. He says all the right things, his speeches run through the
litmus test on conservative issues, but theres no conviction behind it. Authenticity
means a lot in the South. You cant run to the left up North and the right down here.
I find it patronizing to my intelligence, to my conservatism, and to the South.
By all accounts, Mitt Romney is smart and
pragmaticnot at all as vacuous, that is, as he has been made to sound. The irony is
that in attempting to market him to the Republican base, his handlers have created a
thorough phony. The electorate is not where it needs to be for us to succeed,
his campaign PowerPoint had concluded; hence, the strategy has been to move Romney where
he needs to be to succeed. It remains to be seen how well this will play in South
FLOPPER IN CHIEF
Excerpted from an article by Matthew Yglesias at Atlantic
Near the top of his Mitt Romney
profile, Ryan Lizza gives a good summary of the former governor's many political
transformations. A man in New Hampshire introduces himself as a hunter and asks Romney
what he's going to do about global warming. Romney notes that "to do that its
going to take nuclear power, clean coal, more efficient vehicles, and then were
going to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gases." Lizza comments:
It was a good answer, but also a strange one. Not long
ago, Romney released a glossy pamphletdetailing his positions on major issues. He sounded
like Al Gore when talking to the environmentalist in New Hampshire, though his policy
books treatment of global warming reads more like something from ExxonMobil. In it,
Romney refers to the debate over how much human activity impacts the
environmentcode words for the global-warming-denial crowd. He offers no plan
to dramatically curtail emissions of CO2, just an aside that we may well
be able to rein in our greenhouse-gas emissions. As the governor of Massachusetts,
Romney, in December, 2005, pulled out of a Northeast-state agreement on carbon
reductiona plan that he had supported the month before.
This is a habit of Romneys. Politicians tend to
pander, especially during the primary season. Romneys chief opponent, Rudy Giuliani,
also has a history as a pro-gun-control, pro-gay-rights Republican. But while Giuliani
simply downplays his record on those issues, Romney sells himself as a true convert. He
not only shifts positions; he often claims to be the most passionate advocate of his new
stances. Its one of the reasons that his metamorphosis from liberal Republican to
committed right-winger seems so jarring. In 1994, in his race for the Senate, he
didnt simply argue that he was a defender of gay rights; he claimed to be a stronger
advocate than his opponent, Edward Kennedy. Today, hes not just a faithful
conservative but the only Republican candidate who represents the Republican wing of
the Republican Party. He brings a salesmans bravado and certainty to issues.
At a debate in May, when asked how he would respond to a hypothetical situation involving
the interrogation of a terrorist at Guantánamo Bay, he said, Some people have said
we ought to close Guantánamo. My view is that we ought to double Guantánamo.
Elected as a pro-choice governor in 2002YouTube is flooded with his passionate
advocacy of abortion rightshe now presents himself as the most resolute
anti-abortion candidate in the Republican field. A Mormon, he sometimes adopts the
religious language of Evangelicals when he is addressing conservative Christian groups. To
economic conservatives, he pitches himself as the candidate most strongly committed to
slashing spending and taxes. (Hes the only major G.O.P. candidate to have signed a
formal anti-tax pledge, the sort of move that his spokesman dismissed as government
by gimmickry in Romneys 2002 gubernatorial campaign.) To national-security
conservatives, he is the most hawkish. (He says often that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
of Iran, should be indicted under the Genocide Convention, and his campaign has named the
former C.I.A. counterterrorism chief, Cofer Black, the vice-chairman of Blackwater, as an
adviser.) But, while giving customers exactly what they want may be normal in the
corporate world, it can be costly in politics.
The weird thing is that having flip-flopped and pandered
a lot, Romney's campaign seems to feel almost liberated. At this point, it's not worth
worrying that any particular thing will earn their candidate a reputation as a liar, a
flip-flopper, and a panderer, because his stances on just a few high-profile issues show
very clearly that he is a liar, is a flip-flopper, and is a panderer. Thus, they can feel
free to pander and flip-flop on everything all the time. This is a stark contrast
to, say, Giuliani or McCain who want to try to both trim their sails on some issues, while
seeking credit for being straightforward and honest on others. Team Romney, though, always
knows that for their guy Expediency Conquers All.