Mitt Romney


The Washington Post ran a story today about the frequency with which backtracking has become the rule and not the exception this campaign season.

Say what? The 2008 presidential campaign theme could be “Oops! What I meant was …”

Just about every Republican and Democrat has flubbed an answer to a question or made a borderline inappropriate comment _ some so uncomfortable they make you cringe _ only to take back the remarks or seek to clarify them later when under fire.

This month alone, Republican Mitt Romney backtracked from a comment about his sons’ lack of military service. Rival Rudy Giuliani retreated from his suggestion that he spent as much time as Sept. 11 rescue workers at the ground zero site and was exposed to the same health risks. Democrat Bill Richardson stumbled over a question about whether homosexuality was a choice. All sought to skirt controversy by quickly explaining themselves.

It is happening so often, “you’d think it’s deliberate!” quipped G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania.

Joking aside, he said: “I don’t think you can go through this grueling ordeal and not find even the most seasoned politician who isn’t susceptible to misspeaking or a malaprop here or there. We’re seeing some genuinely real moments as these candidates are in the pressure cooker.”

Chalk up the glut of apologies and clarifications to changing times.

Candidates of all stripes have become extremely sensitive to the Internet era and painfully aware of video-sharing Web sites such as YouTube that allow images and audio to be posted online immediately.

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MSNBC’s David Shuster filed this report on Monday’s Hardball, which sums up Sunday’s Republican presidential debate in Iowa. Romey’s flip-flops were a big topic of discussion. Romney said, “I am pro-choice, and that is the truth….and I am tired of people that are holier than thow because they are pro-choice longer than I have.

The report goes on to discuss Romney’s contention “he has always been secretly pro-life” and regretted not being open about his true beliefs while governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts.   

Schuster goes on to say, “The issue is whether Romey is a man of true beliefts, or if he will say anything to get elected.” 

Romney then accused Senator Barack Obama of inconsistency on foreign policy. “In one week he went from saying he’s to sit down for tea with our enemies to he’s going to bomb our allies. In one week he went from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove.” 

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The McCain campaign has noted a number of Mitt Romney’s policy/rhetorical shifts over the past few weeks, including such issues as stem cells, immigration, and abortion.  Now the ex-governor from Massachusetts, or at least his campaign staffers, have struck back against Senator McCain in an attempt to derail the so-called “straight talk express.”

Michael Cooper of the New York Times’ “Caucus” political blog reports that the Romney camp is publicizing a discrepancy between McCain’s campaign rhetoric and his voting record regarding the U.S. Information Agency.  Until the public diplomacy agency’s duties were folded into the State Department in 1999, it sought to promote and publicize official U.S. policies and positions to foreign governments and populations.

Excerpts from a speech McCain was scheduled to deliver in Palm Beach, Florida find the Senator advocating reconstituting the Information Agency as an independent body.

“Dismantling an agency dedicated to promoting America and the American message amounted to unilateral disarmament in the struggle of ideas,’’ he will say, according to excerpts of the speech obtained from the campaign.

As the Romney campaign points out, though, this opinion is apparently at odds with his Senate voting record:

The Romney campaign lost no time in pointing out to reporters that Mr. McCain voted for the 1998 bill that merged the United States Information Agency with the State Department – a bill that also authorized payments to the United Nations and authorized spending for the State Department.

While the Romney campaign is certainly correct that McCain’s new statement represents a direct departure from the bill for which he voted nearly ten years ago, the actual significance and relevance of this point requires a few caveats.

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After criticizing Mitt Romney’s abortion flip-flop last week, John McCain has struck again.  A blog entry at the New York Times discusses the McCain campaign’s latest allegations that Mitt Romney flip-flopped on the hot-button issue of public funding for embryonic stem cell research.

On abortion, Romney has clearly switched his position — it’s up to the individual voter to decide if he flip-flopped or if he changed his mind for non-political reasons.  But do these stem cell charges hold water?

The McCain campaign’s charge relies on this video of a March 2005 press conference:

Then-Governor Romney repeatedly states that he supports stem cell research within “ethical boundaries” and that (in Massachusetts at least) it should be researched as part of a broader approach:

ROMNEY: I’m looking forward to seeing what bill comes forward, I believe that stem cell research is important for our state and for our nation, and I also believe that there should be ethical lines drawn around the appropriate research, but stem cell research is important, and I’ll support it, and I’m gonna continue to encourage ethical lines to be drawn in a way that respects human life.

Asked whether both public and private funding should go to stem cell research, Romney responded with a focus on economics rather than the usual social politics:

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John McCain’s criticism of Mitt Romney’s abortion flip was the subject of a post yesterday–Romney was pro-choice as governor of Massachusetts and since running for president has reiterated pro-life positions, justifying his about face with the contention that he was always personally pro-life. While McCain’s gripe was not that Romney was at one point pro-choice but rather that he was inconsistent, let’s take a look at how McCain does feel about pro-choice Republican candidates.

On May 8, in reference to why he thinks Giuliani’s position on abortion could prevent the former New York City mayor from receiving the Republican presidential nomination, McCain told the AP,

“I think it’s one of the fundamental principles of a conservative to have a respect and commitment to the dignity of human life, both the born and the unborn.”

However, as captured in this You Tube video, McCain told CNN several years ago,

“But we all know, and it’s obvious, that if we repeal Roe v. Wade tomorrow, thousands of young American women would be performing illegal and dangerous operations. I want us to be a party of inclusion. I think that we can all be members of the Republican party whether we are pro-choice or pro-life because we share the same goal, and that is the elimination of abortion because it’s an unpleasant and terrible procedure. We think–I think, that we must go back to the party platform of 1980 and ’84, we include people who have this specific disagreements, who share our same goals.” (Unfortunately, this video is not dated, but given the banner across the screen, it’s from some point during McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.)

Not entirely a flip-flop, but these two statement are not 100% consistent either. McCain admits that at one point the party had room for the pro-choice, but now, he contends that a pro-choice candidate goes against the fiber of conservatism. No to imply the Republican party hasn’t evolved since the CNN interview and that what once might have been acceptable by the party today is not (particularly with the rise of Evangelical support within the party). But we thought it would be helpful to point out this discrepancy, nonetheless.

It’s also helpful to note that USA Today also wrote on May 8 that “Presidential hopeful John McCain says it’s not impossible for a Republican candidate who favors abortion rights to win the nomination, but says such a candidate would face long odds.”

Further, it also doesn’t hurt to reiterate a flip we’ve discussed a few times before in which McCain said in 2000 he would consider repealing Roe v. Wade, but he then completely backtracked these statements. On April 17, we wrote,

 

Yesterday, John McCain’s campaign sent an e-mail to supporters in Alabama reiterating the Senator’s anti-abortion record. Of particular note is the assertion that, “John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned” (See below for the full e-mail.)

This contradicts statements made by the Senator in his 2000 presidential campaign. On August 19 of 1999, he told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I’d love to see a point where it [Roe] is irrelevant and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary…But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations.” (more…)

According to an AP story today, John McCain lashed out at Mitt Romney, of his top competitors in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, for Romney’s flip on abortion. The AP writes,

“Republican John McCain’s campaign on Wednesday circulated a video clip showing then-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney reiterating his vow to uphold the state’s abortion-rights laws.

I have indicated that as governor, I am absolutely committed to my promise to maintain the status quo with regards to laws relating to abortion and choice, and so far I’ve been able to successfully do that,‘ Romney says. ‘And, my personal, philosophical views about this issue are not something that I think would do anything other than distract from what I think is a more critical agenda’ that includes jobs, education and health care.

Romney made the remark at a news conference on May 27, 2005, the same day he, in the name of ‘respecting human life,’ vetoed state legislation that would expand embryonic stem cell research. Nevertheless, McCain’s campaign sought to exploit Romney’s inconsistencies on the issue.

As a GOP governor of a liberal state, Romney repeatedly vowed not to change state abortion laws. He supported abortion rights as recently as 2 1/2 years ago, even though he insists he has always personally opposed the practice.

Now, as a presidential candidate seeking the Republican nomination, he not only emphasizes his personal opposition to abortion rights, but he also calls for the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationally.

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Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is one of this campaign season’s biggest wild cards.  It could affect evangelical turnout and even might discourage those others for whom the Mormon church and the state of Utah retain a certain cultish stigma.

From an L.A. Times Op/Ed by author Sally Denton:

“MITT ROMNEY’S Mormonism threatens his presidential candidacy in the same way that John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism did when he ran for president in 1960. Overt and covert references to Romney’s religion — subtle whispering as well as unabashed inquiries about the controversial sect he belongs to — plague his campaign. None of his responses so far have silenced the skeptics.

Recent polls indicate that from 25% to 35% of registered voters have said they would not consider voting for a Mormon for president, and conventional wisdom from the pundits suggests that Romney’s biggest hurdle is his faith. Everyone seems eager to make his Mormonism an issue, from blue state secularists to red state evangelicals who view the religion as a non-Christian cult.”

Mitt Romney has been at pains to demonstrate that his religion is in line with the American mainstream, though last month he raised eyebrows by citing Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth as his favorite novel.  The title is better known, of course, as the infamous 2001 John Travolta movie adaptation that bombed at the box office and is currently ranked 64th in the Internet Movie Database’s “Bottom 100” films category.

Still, Romney has persisted in efforts to reach out to evangelicals and more mainline protestant denominations without distancing themselves from Mormonism.  The question is whether respondents are willing to admit politically incorrect beliefs to those administering polls.  Romney is in a fairly healthy position in the race right now, which could change if Fred Thompson formally enters the election.  But if people who reject his Mormonism are unwilling to admit it publicly, Romney’s poll numbers may show a variant of the “Bradley Effect” — the phenomenon which often gives black candidates a phantom several points in opinion polls that do not translate into votes on election day.

To most outsiders, Romney seems unwavering and fully dedicated to to his faith.  But some Mormons are suggesting that the former governor is showing insufficient fealty to his religion’s history and scripture.

From The New York Times:

‘Some Mormons have watched with concern how Mr. Romney has responded to grilling by interviewers about his church’s distinctive doctrines. […]

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