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December 9, 2006
Romney's Past Catching Up?

Mitt Romney has worked to position himself as a conservative alternative to John McCain and an ideological opponent of the more liberal Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 Presidential sweepstakes with Republican voters. He has successfully challenged both enough to get himself into the top tier for the nomination in these early days. However, the emergence of correspondence between Romney and the Log Cabin Republicans of Massachussetts in 1994 threatens to make Romney look like a (gasp!) libertarian:

Gov. Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts Republican who has built a presidential campaign on a broad appeal for conservative support, is drawing sharply increased criticism from conservative activists for his advocacy of gay rights in a 1994 letter.

Mr. Romney’s standing among conservatives is being hurt by a letter he sent to the Log Cabin Club of Massachusetts saying that he would be a stronger advocate for gay rights than Senator Edward M. Kennedy, his opponent in a Senate race, in a position that stands in contrast to his current role as a champion of a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“We must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern,” Mr. Romney wrote in a detailed plea for the support of the club, a gay Republican organization.

The circulation of the letter by gay rights groups in recent weeks has set off a storm of outrage among social conservatives, and by Friday was looming as a serious complication to Mr. Romney’s hopes.

Well, I'm not sure how much his positions in the letter will hurt his hopes, but it will certainly fuel the notion that Romney has a little too much flexibility in his principles. That impression has already taken hold on the issue of abortion, where Romney now professes to be pro-life but did nothing to oppose abortion during his one term as governor in Massachussetts. (Note: earlier I had incorrectly stated that Romney served two terms as Governor, and I thank the CQ readers who pointed out the error.)

Adam Nagourney and David Kirkpatrick milk this controversy for every last inch. They get both conservative activists and conservative gay activists to call Romney's supposedly shifting positions "troubling". Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told the Times that he found the letter "disturbing". None say that they will stop supporting Romney, but it's clear the letter is making an impact.

What did Romney say that is causing such a reaction? He told the Log Cabin Republicans that he would do more than just match Ted Kennedy's record on gay rights, in order to get their support for his failed run to defeat the Massachussetts institution in 1994. He promised to make gay equality a "mainstream concern", which he said Kennedy could not do. He supported gays openly serving in the military, with "don't ask, don't tell" as just the first step towards open and honest service.

This does seem like a stretch from his current positions, which support a Constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. It makes Romney look a little more opportunistic, which is the knock on John McCain, his main conservative opposition. Unless Romney can explain the seeming contradictions between 1994 and now, he's going to lose ground to Giuliani, and pretty quickly.

Even to me, who believes that the Republican Party has to get over its issues with gays, this pattern seems inconsistent. Frankly, the 1994 Romney position appeals to me, as it takes government farther out of the bedroom. I also oppose gay marriage by judicial fiat, which would only deepen the problems of our judicial autocracy. However, I believe that the issue of marriage recognition should be left to the states, and should follow the will of the citizens of those states. Marriage recognition is public policy, and its implementation is a decision for the voters and their representatives, not for unelected judges. I've written about this on several occasions.

However, Romney didn't just leave it at that in these early days of campaigning. He has supported a federal solution to marriage, which I think is a bad idea for many reasons, chief among them the lack of federal jurisdiction on the issue. If his views have transformed honestly over the last few years, then he needs to explain his journey from 1994 to 2006 more clearly. Even Ted Kennedy once opposed abortion in his political career; views can change, but when they do, politicians owe their constituents an honest explanation of why.

Perhaps Romney has that explanation, but at the moment, it seems more likely that he's sensing the political winds and following those rather than any deeply-held principles on the subject. That places him at a disadvantage against Giuliani, who has never felt the need to modify his positions for political gain. It's the difference between politicians and leaders, and even though Giuliani might hold many of the same positions as the 1994 Romney, he will have fewer problems from it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 9, 2006 9:33 AM

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» Romney’s real problem with the Log Cabin letter from
A bunch of conservative blogs (here and here) are talking about today’s NYT article on Romney’s Log Cabin letter (Hotline has excerpts). The real interesting point is that they NYT got conservative leaders on record warning Romney that he h... [Read More]

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» Romney and Gay Rights from The Political Pit Bull
Captain Ed looks at report in today's New York Times revealing a correspondence between Romney and the Log Cabin Republicans of Massachussetts in 1994 that seems to show that he's made quite the shift when it comes to the gay... [Read More]

Tracked on December 9, 2006 12:23 PM

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