Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been trying to place himself as the conservative alternative to more moderate presidential candidates, most notably former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City and Senator John McCain of Arizona. He's been doing much worse in the very early polling in early primary states, much to the surprise of pundits who have been predicting him to be a close third to the two early leaders. One reason for this seems to be that the religious right is refusing to get behind him (see, for example, here; ht: DaveG), claiming that he isn't conservative enough. He may not be conservative enough for some people, but he seems to me to be the most conservative candidate in the arena right now who would have a chance of winning the election. Maybe another governor will pull forward a bit, e.g. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin (who also has federal government experience as Secretary of Health and Human Services) or Frank Keating of Oklahoma (who hadn't been in office very long before the Oklahoma City bombing incident). Kathryn Jean Lopez has been defending him, and I thought I should do the same.
As I just said, I think at this point Romney has the most chance of the more conservative people in the arena. Even so, all that is really my fallback argument for why I would support him. I actually think the social conservatives who are criticizing him are doing so extremely unfairly. I don't have much problem with the various combinations of positions he's taken on gay rights issues, and I think he's offered a plausible explanation of the change in his positions on abortion.
One issue is that Romney's 1994 run for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat revealed him to be a supporter of gay rights, whereas now he is taking a strong stand against gay marriage in Massachusetts. Is this a flip-flop? If it is, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with changing your mind in the face of good reasons. In fact, someone who refuses to change their mind in the face of good reasons is someone I would not want as president. Someone who didn't let something like 9-11 change their whole outlook on national security, for instance, would not be a good president, and I'm not fond of the criticism President Bush has taken for saying how much 9-11 changed his views. Someone who didn't get affected in any way by any changes in social factors over the course of more than a decade on social issues is similarly resistant to the kind of reasons I think a good leader should be affected by. The ideal candidate for president might be so moved by changes in technology or people's willingness to use it in certain ways that it might change their views on which uses of technology we should allow. Such changes in views could be bad if based on bad arguments or mere political pressures, but they could just be signs of a willingness to admit to having been wrong on the issue without having been able to see why.
In this case I'm not even sure Governor Romney's current positions are inconsistent with his earlier positions. He sent a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans insisting that he would be a better Senator with respect to gay rights than Senator Kennedy would be. That does not amount to endorsing gay marriage. It does mean he cares about issues that he thinks gay people care about or at least what issues he thinks they should care about. In this case, he says he was thinking primarily about the kinds of discrimination that he even now still disagrees with. There are lots of kinds of discrimination against gay people that someone opposing gay marriage might oppose.
One example that he explicitly mentions is his support for gays serving in the military. He thinks discriminating against people on those grounds even for military service is wrong and shouldn't be allowed. While many conservatives will disagree with him on that, it doesn't amount to an inconsistency with his opposition to gay marriage. He would need to provide an argument why it's not ok to discriminate against gays in the way the military did before "Don't Ask Don't Tell" while being ok not to allow people to marry those of the same sex. But that can be done. Lots of people have taken that position and give considered reasons why they hold exactly that combination of views.
Romney told a Mormon congregation in 1993 that homosexual relationships are perverse (see here). If he had been a full supporter of everything gay people might want, I would have expected him to deny the charge when this came to light during his Senate campaign, to say that he didn't consider it a perverse relationship at all (or anymore if he couldn't get around the claim that he had said it). But he didn't deny the charge. He changed the subject. He said that he respected all people regardless of sexual orientation and opposed discrimination. He didn't say anything about his views on whether it's perverse. Opposing discrimination against gay people is perfectly consistent with thinking that the kind of sexual relationship gay people prefer is perverse. I happen to think every human being is worth respect from being made in God's image, and I think that's a good reason not to discriminate arbitrarily, but lots of people do perverse things and fail to image God well. I still ought to respect them, and I shouldn't discriminate against them unless I have good, nonarbitrary reasons (e.g. I might not want gay people teaching my children in Sunday School that it's ok to do things that I believe to be wrong, but that's no reason to discriminate against gay people because of their being gay; it's a reason to discriminate against them because of their moral views in a very specific setting where those moral views are relevant). So Governor Romney's current position is perfectly consistent, one that many evangelicals share, and he says it's the position he's always had. I can't see why a Mormon couldn't also hold the same view and retain it over several years, saying exactly the sort of thing people have been quoting him as saying without inconsistency.
But some can't recognize the consistency of these positions, and some (even worse) misdescribe what would follow from such supposed inconsistency. The article quotes Paul Weyrich as saying, "Unless he comes out with an abject repudiation of this, I think it makes him out to be a hypocrite. And if he totally repudiates this, you have to ask, on what grounds?" A hypocrite? A hypocrite is someone who regularly preaches against a certain practice, never admitting to doing the same thing, while regularly doing it. I see nothing like that here. Hypocrisy and inconsistency are not the same thing. Perhaps it's reasonable for someone who doesn't see the consistency of Governor Romney's views to call him inconsistent, but it's not hypocrisy unless he's saying gay marriage is wrong while getting married to a man (or something on that order). I don't think the inconsistency charge holds up, but that claim is just the result of uncareful thinking. Those who are calling it hypocrisy are making a moral charge, however. Their point is about intellectual consistency when it really comes down to it, and bringing it into moral judgment seems to me to be so unfair as to be immoral.
Now the other issue is abortion, and on this issue Governor Romney does admit to having changed his mind. One thing to keep in mind here is what came out in the comments on this post. There are two separate issues on abortion. One is the moral question, and the other is the legal question. There are people who consider abortion immoral but think women should have a right to choose to commit such an immoral action. There are others who think it's often immoral but complicated enough that the government isn't going to be able to distinguish very easily between the cases that are ok and the ones that are wrong, at least not with any simple rules, and therefore it's best to let individual people decide whether they should do it.
Using the terms Keith DeRose offered in the comments on that post, Mitt Romney when he ran for the Senate was anti-criminalization on the legal issue but pro-life on the moral issue. He didn't think the matter of abortion should be in the hands of the government, even though he considered it deeply immoral. He hasn't changed his position on the moral question, and thus he is still pro-life, as he always has been. What he has changed his mind on is the legal question. He has moved to the view that state governments should decide whether abortion should be illegal. This doesn't amount to the full-on position that abortion should be illegal at the federal level, but many pro-life conservatives don't hold that view. Even if he doesn't think the best policy for states is to make it illegal, he's running for a federal-level position and thus wouldn't be dictating that, so he's got a position favorable to anti-criminalization advocates who happen also to be federalists (in the contemporary but historically inaccurate sense of the Federalist Society), i.e. those who support decentralization on this sort of issue on federal vs. state grounds, but it's also a position favorable to pro-criminalization advocates who realize that federal silence on the abortion issue will be easier to achieve than a federal ban while still allowing many states to ban the practice.
The current Supreme Court position on abortion is not likely to change unless at least one of Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Souter, Ginsburg, or Stevens gets replaced by someone who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Governor Romney's position is already more conservative on what he thinks should be done than what any president could have a hope of accomplishing short of another change in the balance of the Court on this issue. So practically speaking I'm not sure he'd accomplish any less than a president as conservative as, say, Alan Keyes on this issue. Yet his probable willingness to pursue smaller steps in lieu of the ability to accomplish larger changes may enable him to whittle away at the current state of things the way President Bush has done (e.g. with partial birth abortion and with some FDA regulations), at the cost of great criticism from the extreme right who think he's been unwilling to seek greater change in violation of the Supreme Court.
But Romney also has a response to the issue of change across time, since he has given an explanation of his change on the legal issues. The big factor for him was understanding how easily people were willing to discard embryos after having used them as a means to an end, killing them in the process. When he saw the cavalier attitude people were taking toward human life, he realized what the anti-criminalization view allowed by Roe v. Wade had led to. That caused him to think more deeply about his views on the legality of abortion, and he ended up concluding that the federal government shouldn't have its current ban on states' ability to declared abortion illegal. This strikes me as exactly the kind of thing that I see converting people on the abortion issue toward a more conservative legal position. I'm not sure why it's supposed to be so implausible an explanation of his move to the right on the legal issue. Furthermore, he seems to be the kind of person who will appoint exactly the kind of judges and justices that I would want him to, which doesn't even require being pro-life but just requires being judicially conservative, as he clearly seems to be. (Even Rudy Giulani, who is much more fully with the pro-choice camp than Romney has ever been, has declared himself to be in favor of conservative judges.)
One thing the article recognizes is true, however. Governor Romney's current emphasis is very different from what he was emphasizing in his campaign for the Senate, even on the gay rights issues that he hasn't changed his mind on. But there's a very good explanation for that change in emphasis. In the mid-90s, gay rights issues were really just coming to the fore. Gay rights issues didn't have the kind of a momentum then that they've been able to pick up since then. It's true that some of that momentum is decreasing now that judges have been declaring same-sex marriage (or at least something similar if not marriage by name) to be constitutionally required, and people have been responding with a backlash of constitutional amendments against gay marriage, something Romney himself would support banning. But many gay rights issues are pretty much mainstream at this point. I can see how someone very much in support of laws protecting gays from discrimination in employment or hospital visitation, for instance, would oppose gay marriage enough to make that the main issue. That seems to be exactly what Governor Romney has done. Yet I can also see someone who is inflamed about that issue to continue to hold views that, in a different political environment more than a decade ago, would have led to a lot more public support for gay rights on the issues that then were the most prominent gay rights issues. So how is it problematic for him to have changed his emphasis? The mood in the country on these issues has moved, and thus what he emphasizes has changed, without him necessarily having changed his views on policy matters at all. So yet again I think the charge is unfair.
I don't agree with Governor Romney on all the details of all these issues, but in the case where his views have changed I think he's got a plausible explanation, and in the case where his views didn't change I think it makes sense how his emphasis has changed without undergoing any change or inconsistency in his views. In the end, I do think he's the best candidate for the Republican nomination for conservatives, since the other candidates are either more moderate than he is or coming in with too many problems in other ways. That would take another whole post to detail, of course, so I will save it for another time, but my main contention is that these particular worries should not count as sufficient reasons for a conservative on these two issues not to support Governor Romney's presidential bid.
Update 1-15-07: Here are several additions on several issues. I'll take them in turn.
I wasn't aware that there were flip-flop charges about gun issues. I have never considered the gun issue a high priority, so I rarely pay attention to anything politicians say about it, but it seems this is another case of Romney changing his emphasis without changing his views. He's always been opposed to assault weapons but has been generally in favor of gun ownership, enough to get a B rating from the NRA back when he was running for the Senate against Ted Kennedy, who I'm sure fails miserably by the NRA's standards. For more see here and here and the links there. The comments on this despicable post have further discussion that's helpful.]
There's a further gay marriage issue that I hadn't been aware of when I wrote the post. Apparently Romney at one point opposed a gay marriage amendment but after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage he decided to endorse exactly such an amendment. This is also being used by those unable or unwilling to think very carefully as evidence that he's a flip-flopper. See this discussion for more information.
However, there are two fairly easy ways to account for this. One is that he didn't expect judges to dictate what state legislatures are allowed to do on the issue, and that led him to rethink his views, changing his mind but arguably for good reasons. Since nothing is wrong with changing your mind in the face of further evidence of how far someone will take something, this could be a case of good flip-flopping.
However, it might be that his position never changed. A charitable interpretation of Romney on states and gay marriage is as follows. State legislatures should decide the issue. The right policy is not to have gay marriage, but the ideal way for it to be implemented is by state legislatures. It shouldn't ideally be written into the state constitution, because it's a matter of legislation and not fundamental rights. But if judges declare it already to be part of a constitution, the only way to undo that and return it to the legislature is for the legislature to amend the constitution. Since it's always a bad idea to interpret people in the least charitable way when there's a perfectly consistent position that's much more charitable, I think it's grossly immoral that anyone would call him a flip-flopper on this issue.
I did discover one gay rights issue he's changed his position on, but he gives a reason. From this comment:
in 1994 Romney supported ENDA for gays (Employment Non-Discrimation Act). He now opposes it due to, among other reasons, the flood of litigation it would create. That’s the only gay issue he’s changed his position on.]
Taxes and being a Reagan Republican
I've added a link at the end of the first update (the one I call a despicable post) to a good comment discussion that touches on several issues. Here it is again for those who don't want to lose their place on this page while opening that up in a new window or tab. It also brings up a third issue.
Supposedly Romney flip-flopped on taxes by saying he wasn't a Reagan Republican and now is trying to make himself out to be a Reagan Republican. But saying that you don't agree with the Reagan tax program in every way (i.e. not wanting to go back to Reagan-Bush on the issue) in 1994, after conservatives had moderated their views somewhat but also won over many liberals to the more moderated position, strikes me as being consistent with viewing yourself as a Reagan Republican in 2006 and 2007.
Particularly, it seems to me that Romney sees himself as a Reagan Republican in contrast to Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, both of whom are not viewed as genuine conservatives on a number of issues where Romney has endorsed conservative views. He may also have foreign policy issues on his mind if he is more of a realist in the mold of Reagan and Colin Powell. It's true that he thinks it would be immoral to abandon Iraq to terrorists and to Iran given what we've done there, but that's consistent with taking a Reagan/Powell realist view on other issues.
It's possible also that he sees being a Reagan conservative as being the sort who reaches out to Democrats and brings them into the fold. His views on gay rights seem clearly to have done this before the gay marriage issue was the main gay issue. His health insurance plan is a great example of how compassionate conservatism is supposed to work, a conservative implementation of something liberals have tried to do but without violating anywhere near as many conservative principles as liberal ways of doing it, and he's gotten much liberal support for it.
Furthermore, he sees himself as Reagan in one other way. He has changed his mind on the legalization issue of abortion. He admits to this change. He has cited Reagan as someone who had similar changes, albeit over a longer time and over many more issues than Romney has changed. But if he is like Reagan in this way, then there is one further thing that he might be thinking when he compares himself to Reagan, without it meaning that he was ever a full-on liberal on tax issues. I haven't seen one direct quote about what sort of tax policy he favored in 1994. This charge is entirely an inference from something that can be taken in many different ways, and the house of cards thus adds another level with pretty much no support.
[Tax Cut Update 2/9/07: Some Democrats who were in a closed meeting with Romney in 2003 have claimed that he opposed Bush's tax cuts at that time, but his public comment after that meeting was in support of an economic stimulus that would come from such cuts but an insistence that he wouldn't get involved with national politics. The next year he explicitly gave Bush's tax cuts credit for stimulating the economy when campaigning for the president's reelection. There doesn't seem to be any real evidence to support the claims of these Democrats in that closed meeting. See here for more.]
One issue not fully discussed above is the judges Romney has appointed as compared with his official stance that he supports judicial conservatives. There are good discussions of this issue here and here. Several factors enter into this that aren't immediately obvious if you just look at the nature of the various people he's appointed to the judiciary in Massachusetts. One is that an nine-member panel called the Governor's Council has to approve every nominee. The Governor's Council is not appointed by the governor but is elected by one of the most liberal states in the country, and only one seat has been held by a Republican during the time Romney was governor. I imagine many of the people on that panel are very much like Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) in their views about judicial nominees. Given that, it's amazing that Romney managed to get Republicans through for 25% of his nominees. Conservative critics of Romney who are happier with distorting the facts will complain about such a low number, but it will simply show their ignorance. Judicial conservatives should actually be happy about this, since it means he can show some success in getting judicial conservatives through an extremely partisan elected body who has opposing views to those candidates. In a close to 50-50 Senate, we should expect a much higher rate. I doubt someone like our current president could have had a 25% success rate in Massachusetts with this sort of thing.
Another factor is that governors' appointments to judicial positions occur at a number of levels, some of them somewhat less important the presidents' appointments to federal courts but in the same sort of arena where judicial philosophy plays a role. Others are merely implementers of the law in very specific situations without much of a judicial review role. It seems Romney's primary desire for his nominees in the latter cases was that they were tougher on crime, while in the former cases he cared more about judicial philosophy.
I should also add that some of the complaints I've seen on this strike me as just thoroughly immoral. One argument I've seen is that Romney should be opposed because two of his nominees were gay. What should it matter that he nominated two gay judges? How could that possibly play a role in whether they will be good judges? For the lower court positions, he wanted them to be tough on crime and meet high standards in terms of their qualifications. For the higher court positions, he wanted them to be what he (along with 99% of Americans) wrongly calls strict constructionists but probably actually means judicial conservatives (which includes originalists of various sorts like Justices Thomas and Scalia, modified originalists like Justice Alito, and eclectic judicial minimalists like Chief Justice Roberts). Whether they are gay has nothing to do with that, and anyone who wants to restrict judges to heterosexuals probably shouldn't be on the short list of presidential candidates you'd consider voting for.
It would be another matter if he had been appointing those whose judicial views go against his stated opposition to gay marriage, particularly if they would be expected to go against his views on that in their judicial practice. The two judges he appointed whom I've seen complaints about on this matter were (1) in lower court positions, where his criteria were about being qualified and being tough on crime and (2) well into their 50s, making it very unlikely that they would end up moving up the ranks very far for very long, which means there was little chance their judicial philosophy would have much if any effect on the judicial system at large.
There's more that I could say, but you can follow the links for further details.
Yet another ridiculous flip-flop charge has come out on English-only education. Apparently Romney was opposed to a ballot initiative on English-only education, even though he didn't like the bilingual education that was the status quo at the time. But he thought the ballot initiative went too far. It passed. He became governor in the same election. When the legislature passed a law trying to soften the ballot initiative and go back to something more like the original state, he vetoed it, presumably thinking that was worse than the then-current state of things. I don't see how this is necessarily a problem. He didn't like either option, but he generally favored English-only to some degree, and he didn't want to go back even if the state of things was more than he had wanted. So there's no issue here. See the comment thread here for more details.
Update 2/9/07: Two more issues have surfaced. See here for more detailed discussion of both of them. I've put one in the Taxes section above, and the other is immediately below.
Campaign Finance Reform
HeavyM at Race 4 2008 says:
Romney has always supported transparency and disclosure in the campaign finance system, and has never supported McCain-Feingold. But what about 2002, when Mitt Romney supported “dramatic changes” to campaign laws in Massachusetts? As usual, the quotes used against him are taken completely out of context. What Mitt supported was changing the MA Clean Election Law so taxpayer money could not be used to finance public campaigns. However, when this couldn’t be done, he supported repealing the law altogether. There are quotes from newspaper articles in 2003 detailing the process.