Mitt Romney has described the shift in his positions on abortion and other issues as an evolution, a gradual change that occurred when he broadened his perspective as time passed. Romney hopes that this evolution will please conservative Republicans enough to support him against the more liberal Rudy Giuliani and the mistrusted John McCain. However, in this case, Romney's evolution has left some bitterness behind in Massachussetts, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
Though Romney's policy shifts have become widely known, his meetings with activists for abortion rights and other causes — which have received far less attention — show he put much work into winning support from Massachusetts' liberal establishment only a few years ago.
Making personal appeals on the state's liberal touchstones — gay rights, abortion rights and the environment — Romney developed a persuasive style, convincing audiences that his passion matched theirs and that he was committed to their causes.
He impressed environmentalists by using rhetoric sharper than theirs. He met gay-rights activists on their turf, in a restaurant attached to a popular gay bar, and told skeptics he would be a "good voice" and a moderating force within his party.
And in many cases, he said his commitment had been cemented by watching the suffering of someone dear to him: a grandchild whose asthma left him worried about air pollution; his wife's multiple sclerosis, which had him placing hope in embryonic stem cell research; the death of a distant relative in an illegal abortion, convincing him that the procedure needed to remain legal.
In discussing the need to combat global warming, he said he worried about his family's favorite vacation spot.
"He talked a lot about his kids and his family and the place they go to in New Hampshire on vacation," said Cindy Luppi, an official from the group Clean Water Action, who was impressed by Romney's concern about global warming in a 2003 meeting — and later disappointed when he unexpectedly pulled the state out of a regional compact on greenhouse gases.
The personal touch got Al Gore in trouble in 2000. Recall when Gore used the death of his sister to explain his anti-tobacco passion -- and then it came out that Gore profited from leasing his land to tobacco interests years after her death? Republicans had no problem pointing out the hypocrisy involved then, and we can expect these anecdotes to come out of Romney's past in the 2008 campaign.
Other than that, the Times presents few surprises. We know that Romney has "evolved" over the last few years, although some might be a little surprised to see how recently some of those changes have occurred. If Romney was pushing global warming in 2002, one has to ask what changed his mind so significantly in the last four years. Similarly, a 2002 plea to abortion-rights advocates to allow him to "moderate" the GOP's hard-line stance also appears very close to his epiphany about the unborn.
"I'm a believer in simplicity," Romney told a NARAL audience in 2002, according to the Times. "I'm a strong believer in stating your position and not wavering." Unfortunately for Romney, that's the Giuliani argument this year -- that a man who can stand up to his party on domestic issues can stand up for America in foreign policy. Wavering has put him on defense early in the campaign.
That, however, may be by design. If Romney can get all of this out nine long months before the primaries begin, he can defuse most of it. It may give him some of McCain's headache -- can the GOP trust him to pursue his policy stands of late -- but he has a long time to reinforce his current messages. More of those unhappy activists who supported Romney for his more liberal stances in the past will go public, but they will have decreasing influence on the debate if Romney can stay on message now and keep talking about his "evolution".
It's no wonder, though, why conservatives have made it clear that they're still hoping for a hero -- and why they keep casting their eyes West for Fred Dalton Thompson.