Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Case Against Romney

Our thread friend Clint makes the key points. He’s suspiciously "evolved" in a socially conservative direction; he’s governed the suspiciously liberal state of Massachusetts, and the evangelicals will never vote for a Mormon--suspicious or not. (Make sure you read the first response to Clint’s post for the complete picture.) As I said, all the active candidates have obvious and significant weaknesses.

Discussions - 33 Comments

I gotta take Clint’s word on Romney’s "evolution." However, I’m not sure evangelicals will not vote for Romney. Many key evangelicals have expressed a degree of open-mindedness about this and I have not heard any evangelical leader of note say otherwise. Now the evangelicals are not under-educated and easily led, the Washington Post to the contrary not withstanding, but there is an intensive interaction between evangelicals and their putative leaders. I have not heard Albert Mohler, Jim Dobson, or even that insufferable Robertson - who has a half dozen opinions on everything - say anything about Romney’s Mormonism. I am happy to be corrected on this, but if I have not heard it, it either has not happened or has had no impact. I read Focus on the Family’s materials and I listen to Mohler’s radio show. You couldn’t pay me to watch the 700 club, but a pronouncemet on Romney would have made waves in the stuff I do read. The fact of the matter is that the fundamental strain which might be most likely to reject a mormon is not the dominant strain among evangelicals. For the record, I am neither Evangelical nor Mormon, and I am against or unconvinced by every 08 likely in the GOP.

by the way - nice column clint, and a good post by Robinson on the Rasmussen material

Yes, Clint’s piece sums the problem up, nicely.

wm, I know lots of Christians who look on a Mormon as the worst kind of heretic. However, I do not listen to any of those guys you mention and do not know how prominent evangelicals look at Romney. Given the new evangelical interest in government programs, perhaps Romney’s Mass. Republican inclinations will be appealing to them. Yet, the reason you might not be hearing anything might be that the pro-choice, pro-gay stuff makes him unthinkable to that crowd. He’s not prominent enough to make them notice, nor interesting enough to make them push his name forward.

Fair enough. If anyone even remotely deserving of the presidency was looking like a prospect I assume Romney would be a non-issue. It is soooo depressing. There is not one national Republican looking at the big race who stirs anything in me. No Goldwater, no Reagan, no Senator Taft. I absolutely despise the "we need a leader" mentality, but we do at least need someone who is both principled and hasan ounce of charisma. I cannot tell you how much I am dreading the primaries. We get to choose between a man who served his country with nobility but who has since declared war on the first amendment, a big city liberal who is phenomenal on law and order and virtually nothing else and whose personal life, once it comes out, will be a nightmare distraction, and a hodge podge of real conservatives with no charisma and charismatic guys who are not real conservatives. No one with my principles is electable, but I’d at least like to get close. The last guy I was passionate about was Blackwell in Ohio, but he ran the worst gubenatorial campaign I have ever seen. ugh Ugh ugh

I like how the Clint piece calls Romney "Publicly pro-choice" instead of just pro-choice.

Is that like John Kerry’s position, where he is against abortion but for the right to an abortion?

I’d like to hear Romney’s position on these things first before passing judgement but can understand why he might have played politics to help him get elected in Mass. From what I understand, he never claimed to be Pro-choice, only that he wouldn’t work to change the Mass State laws to conform to his pro-life beliefs, I could be wrong about that though.

As for the Evangelical vote, he doesn’t have to worry about that. If he is the best candidate and wins the Republican nod, folks like James Dobson, Hugh Hewitt, Joe Carter, etc, will start talking about him and his faith. And they will explain why there is nothing wrong with a Christian who votes for a Mormon Mitt Romney over a "Christian" Hillary Clinton.

Recently I had the opportunity to have a quick conversation with Romney, who was campaigning for GOP gubernatorial candidates. I asked him whether, in light of his experience with the judges of the MA Superior Court imposing gay marriage by decree, he would recommend that governors (and presidents) appeal to their oath of office to uphold the constitution and explain they cannot enforce judicial holdings that conflict with the US or state constitutions. I am certain Romney’s attention has been brought to this possibility before and he has thought about it. He seemed annoyed by the question and dismissed it, saying that courts have the authority to decide what constitutions mean, so the real answer must be the “people” amending the constitution when judges go astray. As we see in MA as well as nationally of course, this is a wheel-spinning response that means in practice allowing courts to govern unchallenged.

By directly confronting out of control judges, a conservative candidate for president would propel himself to the top tier in the primary campaign. Such a President could cut the Gordian knot that is strangling our social order and confine the culture war that has destroyed decent and civil politics.

Romney impressed me as an empty suit. Maybe he’ll “evolve” enough to see that the executive branch has great powers to prevent judges from subverting constitutional government…but I’m not holding my breath.

I think we’re all hitting the great problem of 2008 for GOPers. Right now I’m investigating one of the darkest horses, Tim Pawlenty. I’m still a ways off though from knowing if he’s top-ticket material.

Re Baggi’s comments on "publicly pro-choice." That is fundamentally the Democratic position (Kerry, Clinton, and almost all). Any serious politician claims to want limited abortion, but liberals claim health and privacy rights make it legal. I’m not sure exactly how Romney phrased his abortion position in 2002, but I know that in his Senate campaign of 1994 he supported Roe and was in favor of legal abortion (he said a family member died having an illegal one).

Recently on abortion and other issues, it is not clear where he is other than definitely more conservative. He has openly said his abortion position has "evolved." This would be quite fine except his age and maturity. Had his more liberal positions been from youth, or had he lived 40 years as an immature man (Bush) it would be believable to have a "come to Jesus." However, he has always been a sensible man, which makes it quite strange to see such a recent trend to the right.

His last cop-out is always that I said "I would uphold the laws" which on abortion and in MA are very liberal. But "upholding the laws" and claiming to constructurally interpret the constitution are appealing conservative credentials. Hence the trickery. I think though that his "uphold the law" approach is evidence of his empty suit as Dennis said. He is not a leader; we do not know where he stands; he makes no decisions; he takes no firm positions. He always is a victim of the override liberal legislature, the liberal laws of MA, the Constitution, etc.

Eventually, I hope he’ll run out of excuses for not doing the right thing.

No one likes the possible candidates. Why don’t the conservative movement big wigs get together and find an alternative. Weyrich, Blackwell, Keene, Schlafly, etc. etc. etc. There is no way we can settle for the current crop.

I still say Tancredo. He has strong grassroots support, and if Bush passes amnesty the base will be in an uproar and ready to support him.

The biggest problem is that he is not the most articulate guy. Get him a Dale Carnegie course and then get him to New Hampshire.

This is from an interview with Hugh Hewitt back in July 2005:

MR: I am a pro-life governor. And I indicated during my campaign that I did not favor abortion. But I’m in a very pro-choice state, and I committed to the people that if elected, I would not change the laws. I would put in place a moratorium if you will, a status quo provision, that there would be no changes in the abortion laws, one way or the other. And so this emergency contraception bill was an effort to sort of get around that, and to try to get me to change my commitment. And I, of course, wasn’t going to do that. But I am pro-life. I have made that quite clear today. Usually, I have not used that term. I’ve just said look. I don’t favor abortion. But I wanted to make it clear that over the past two and a half years serving as governor, I’ve watched an activist court. I’ve also had the experience of seeing what happens with embryo farming, and embryo cloning being considered. And I just recognized that we have to be very clear in standing up for the importance of the sanctity of life.

It IS depressing, because there is no one discernible as conservative who seems to be running right now. Please, someone tell me I am wrong and it does NOT take years to build a presidential campaign.

No, it HAS to be an articulate guy, this time around. Especially if someone relatively unknown right now, it HAS to be someone articulate on conservative principles. Whatever legacy there was in terms of the clear enunciation of conservative ideas is just gone. But it isn’t just that. It has to be someone articulate, because it has to be someone compelling enough to overcome negative perception. It will not just be about ideas.

Thanks, Erik, that’s the Romney I’m familiar with.

Erik’s quote is worth taking seriously. I’m actually convinced that Romney is actually more pro-life that McC or G.

Kate, Romney’s wonderfully articulate, principled and sensible on abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage. And in his wife he has a wonderful asset against the charge that he’s "cold-hearted." (Somewhat like Michael Steele’s sister, if you’re familiar with the recent Maryland race.)

What we (national conservative readership)need with Romney is for in-depth investigate pieces to come out now. The man is charismatic, is sharp, and despite that poll linked above, I don’t think the Mormonism winds up deciding it--I think he loses a mere 10-15% of the conservative Christian vote on the Mormonism, which shouldn’t be decisive. Especially since the Repub candidate he probably winds up running against will be either 1) Hillary, or 2) a Dem significantly to the left of her. The primary issues we need to know about are these: a) What is the nature of his conservatism? If it is recent, what was the manner of his change of mind? Generally, what has been his political trajectory? b) The "empty suit" issue touched by certain folks above...w/ charisma comes certain temptations... c)foreign policy, foreign policy, foreign policy...who is he talking to, informed by? Iran? We have to know now what his position is on proliferation. We have to know how he thinks on these issues, and be able to distinguish his positioning from the general drift/resouces of his mind. d) character--what is this guy like to work with? How does he respond to pressure, group-think, criticism, betrayal?

In 2000, I was on the last legs of my "pro-life Democrat" hedging, but I was amazed and appalled that Republicans nominated GW Bush, who simply could not appear adequately intelligent in speeches and pressers for the presidency. I say that as one who probably defends GW more than most, even here, but my point is that it seems Republicans, to say nothing of conservatives, could have been better served by knowing more about their front-runner earlier...I suppose that’s obvious, but it’s already getting late in the game to know as little about Romney as we do.

Here is a link to Mitt Romney "on the issues." Very handy. On issues where position statements are recorded back to 1994 or sometimes even 2000 or 2002, note the very liberal stances. Erik and Paul portray the modern Mitt. I think he is likeable, intelligent, etc, but I’m questioning his conservatism. His record there is very weak. Liberal and no stances.

My current favorite, John McCain, isn’t perfect, but I invite you to check him out from the same site. It’s a little dated, but he compares favorably.

Let me add to all the above the thought that Romney might be more trustworthy on the social issues BECAUSE he’s a Mormon.

And now Romney is trying to push the gay marriage issue in Massachusetts, asking the MA Supreme Court to put a anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment onto the 2008 Ballot.


You’re exactly right. While the Mass. Court and Legislature have conspired to rob the citizens of constitutional self-government, Romney is acting like some innocent bystander, not a duly-sworn executive.

If he had only stood up and said "The Executive branch will not recognize the Court’s laughable ruling until the People have spoken," he’d already be measuring the Oval Office drapes. But he didn’t want to take the heat. He wanted to be president more than he wanted to do his job, and honor the oath he took. If a court has the "Final Word", then let’s change our oaths and swear allegience to the Almighty Judicial Branch.

No more empty suits. No more ’leaders’ without a core. Mitt is unfit.

Dan, YES...Tancredo! The ultimate darkhorse, but a man of clearly demonstrated bona fides on the critical (and winning) issue of immigration. Add a security spin, throw in some economic populism (all of which dovetails nicely with borders) and you’ve got a good candidate. Can he win? No idea.

Thanks for the link, Clint. To me it looks good; but then again, very much like Romney, I’ve taken a turn to conservativism in the last seven years, and embryo destroying stem-cell research was one of the key factors.

Dennis is the one with a real detail, however. Although, I must say that just because those of us who read the likes of Jim Stoner and Matt Franck (of NRO’s Bench Memos) know that constitutional resistance to bad judicial decisions is an option, it is purity-politics to demand this understanding of acceptable conservative candidates. That said, Dain, Dennis, Clint, and Noel, and those like them, by all means get to work and try to find a better candidate somewhere.

Some of the dialogue here is about whether Romney is authentically conservative about issues such as abortion, gay marriage, etc. Our current President, a good, decent, and courageous man, has even made a little headway by a splendid series of judicial appointments. But my point involves something wider. Romney may, for all I know, be utterly sincere in his current views, and I do think he is the most articulate candidate on the scene regarding the corruption of marriage, precisely for the reason that he is a Mormon, as Peter Lawler notes. The point is that we must have a conservative president who can figure out how to end not only the war in Iraq but the culture war in the US! As far as I can see, the key to doing so is simply to reassert all the powers of the Presidential office. Those powers include the execution of judicial holdings, and obviously that power too is subject to constitutional restraints. This is not brain surgery. A president who has thoughtfully considered how the constitution divides powers among three branches would recognize that the judiciary can no more command him to do something that violates the constitution than he can command them to do so! Moreover, in a govt. divided into co-equal branches, each branch must determine for itself what the constitution means as regards its own powers while checking the others when they stray. So, when judges assert that constitutions require same-sex marriage, there isn’t a reason in the world that an executive who can read the words has to agree with such absurd distortions of language. In fact, if he does not agree with the court, he is duty bound NOT to enforce those rulings.

The lowest moment of the Bush Administration came when some judge in a FL state court whose name no one remembers ordered the execution of Terry Schiavo. The Pres of the US stood by helplessly while she was murdered over a period of days. Pres. Bush evidently never read the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of the security of life in the absence of due process of law. That judicial act amounted to a coup d’etat of the FL state govt. yet the president’s brother was as paralyzed by the black robed master as his brother. One is tempted to believe that if the Muslim terrorists who next attack the US disguise themselves in judicial robes, the President will declare that there’s nothing we can do to stop them!

Conservatives need a President who knows the powers of the Chief Executive officer vis-a-vis the judiciary. I don’t care how many good judges such as Roberts and Alito are put on the Supreme Court bench, the judicial crisis and the culture war will continue without a President who knows how to check judicial despotism.

Someone mentioned the importance of foriegn policy. Not sure what Mitt Romney’s foriegn policy positions are. All I know about him is that he refused to provide any security via the State of Mass for the Iranian ex-President who made his way over here to speak on our university campuses.

That was impressive.

I am surprised how hard some of you are fishing. Romney is unreliable at best. Let’s be honest, he is NOT a principled conservative (let’s not get into the standard debate - conservativism has always included the ability to translate principals into praxis, thus it is fundamentally "pragmatic"). I know we all fear a Dole in 2008, however let’s let the process play out and see what happens. Even putting Romney on your long list is desperation...

Carl: I applaud your {implicit} criticism of "purity-politics". Let’s dump that unhelpful standard RIGHT NOW.

Romney is also impressive in this: On election morning he called a gubernatorial candidate friend of mine, whom all polls showed was going to lose by a substantial margin. (He did, in fact, a substantial margin.....) Romney reached out (unsolicited) and commiserated by sharing the story of the shellacking he received in his first race for elective office against Ted Kennedy. My friend was moved by the gesture, and is inclined to support Romney That tells me that Romney is being advised by some pretty smart operatives;......he’s quietly building an organization (and a rolodex).
Unless Sam Brownback gains some traction (quickly) then Romney’s clearly the most attractive of the announced Republican candidates. And he would give America a stark -and real - choice against Hillary or whomever else the Dems nominate. Hate to say this, but he’s able to compete with Obama in the telegenic department....Maybe it’s just been reduced to that?? :-(
As attractive as I find Tancredo, from what I hear he doesn’t pass Kate’s (insightful) "articulation" test. Let’s not fail that test AGAIN, OK?
Now on to getting my eldest son on the road back to CA to college......Life’s good. (But why does this particular exercise always involve money transferring from my hands to his??)

Well, Romney needs to read all this. Gary is right that Romney is both telegenic and articulate; he’s as quick on his feet and prettier than Hillary and even Obama. Dennis and Carl are right that he, along with all the other candidates, doesn’t really understand the Constitution. But that shortcoming seems easy to remedy in his (very smart) case. Carl and/or Dennis (and/or Yuval Levin), please sign up with his campaign.

note 24 and 25,

Question: What exactly are your principles? To put it another way, what are your "minimum standards" in an elected official? It appears delectability ("prettiness"), some sort of organizational and/or campaign ’smarts’ is the top of your list. No offense, but it looks like that if a person meets these requirements, then whether he actually is a "conservative" or you-fill-in-the-blank it does not matter much to you (well, as long as he appears to have moved in the right direction in some time frame. I am thinking here of how Romney has moved from bona fide liberal/progressive to something vaguely "conservative", or more accurately "GOP" over the last 10 years). Seems to me, your interested in power for powers sake...

I’m interested in power to advance the common good. My {admittedly pragmatic} principle is to support and elect whomever I believe to be the least objectionable of the candidates who, in fact, offer themselves. I think Romney’s a genuine conservative, or at least more conservative than McCain.
After thinking through the "principle", then I turn my attention to which candidate is doing the nuts-and-bolts work prerequisite to winning an election. A certain "Manliness" professor once told me he repeatedly (and ineffectually) counseled one of his former students to "modify his rhetoric" in order to accomplish the first step in politics: "Get elected." Sound advice in 2000. Sound advice now. Do I *wish* for more attractive, conservative candidates (I mentioned Sam Brownback) to run? Yes.
And Romney *does* need read to Lawler’s comment about his deficient understanding of the Constitution. The difference is that Romney WILL read it and reflect, and McCain will not.

Quickly, in Gary’s defense: Wouldn’t it be great to have a Republican candidate with little or no cringe factor. Reagan was very smart and fairly well read, but an ad libber he often was not. Dole, a very capable senator, was just too full of self-deprecating irony to do better than Tenth Amendment yadda yadda yadda. And either Bush, don’t get me started. Giuliani, McCain, Gingrich, and Romney are all quite glib and would debate etc. well, and of the four Romney is proably the most genuinely conservative. (Although I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise...) I’ll be thrilled to have a compaign where our candidate didn’t sound dumb and dumber.


I suppose where you and I part ways is that given two choices (McCain and Romney), I vote for an ugly (i.e. non-telegenic), disorganized, "unelectable" conservative. At least he would be something on which you could build a base and a future. You said

"And Romney *does* need read to Lawler’s comment about his deficient understanding of the Constitution. The difference is that Romney WILL read it and reflect, and McCain will not."

Really now, how don’t you think if Romney (or any one else in his position and/ or in politics for as long as he has) would have already been "reflecting" on the constitution if he was apt to do so? Is it not just a bit late for him to seriously, conservatively, begin "reflecting" on the Constitution? Seriously, should he begin now or just a wait till a day or two before he takes the oath! ;). I really can’t see the "pragmatism" on setting the bar so low, for what is the point of being elected if your principles are so weak as to be ineffectual?


Again, I think where we part ways is that Romney is a "conservative". Upstream it was documented where he was a real progressive/liberal on many issues not 10 years ago. His position on the sanctity of life is duplicitous (has this issue not been around the block enough already for us to not recognize a politician hedging yet again?). His thanksgiving political theatre on "gay marriage" is gross (the left has it right on this - he is fishing for the primary voter).

If any of the names you mention make it through the primaries to be the candidate, we will see the lowest conservative/base turnout in 2008 in a long time. The Dem’s will simply consolidate their gains...

"I applaud your {implicit} criticism of "purity-politics". Let’s dump that unhelpful standard RIGHT NOW."

Sorry Gentlemen, but a very strong case can be made that the reason the "conservative movement" is in such a sorry shape is because back at its genesis, the decision was made to chose pragmatism over adherence to principle. And this decision was not a temporary alteration for political expediency. It was a wholesale sell out. It should shock no one that the major contenders don’t understand the Constitution. The Constitution has been trampled on by every "conservative" you can name, with the honorable exception of Ron Paul. If an expenditure is not specifically authorized by the Constitution, which is almost all of them, then conservative should oppose it. Not want to add market incentives to it. And for God’s sake not "save" it.

Now for the sake of pragmatism you could say the program needs to be phased out over a long period of time, or at least temporarily frozen. But what happens now is that "pragmatic" conservatives use their pragmatism to court favor from the left. "What do you mean we want to cut program X? We want to increase funding for program X." In fact they use the ol’ "we don’t want to cut spending, we just want to slow the rate of growth" canard as if that was something in their favor. And worst of all, they use the purism of the purist against them. "Oh, their just a bunch of whacko’s. We reasonable conservatives don’t want to abolish the Department of Education (insert unconstitutional program of your choice.)" And then the conservatives wonder why they can’t seem to get a handle on spending. Because they have never demanded that spending be controlled or any other conservative principle be adhered to for that matter.

Personally, I prefer to go down fighting with my honor and principle intact. If that makes me a purist then so be it.

It is the slavish devotion to pragmatic nose counting that has been most “unhelpful.”

I actually think McCain is electable. I’m just not sure he’s nominatable. We disagree on which of the two is more conservative. Based on perceptive friends’ reports from MA, I think Romney’s latter-day conservatism is genuine. You have your {substantial} doubts. Fair enough.
Re: The Constitution. I would prefer a thorough and principled examination (and commitment) from the earliest days, but will take whatever I can get. And McCain’s willful disregard for the Constitution in pushing though campaign finance reform (and yes, "W" was complicitous in not vetoing the bill) told me bushels about his lack of constitutional bona fides. His "having-it-both-ways" criticism of gay marriage while refusing to federalize the issue (and, yes, I know that’s generally Scalia’s position) is two steps too cute for me. He’s pandering to buy time, or, as you put it, "fishing for primary voters."
I love McCain’s fiscal responsibility talk, and I love his war-on-terror talk. But in the end I don’t think he’d be as consistently conservative as Romney. I think both men can beat Hillary, if we’re fortunate enough for her to be the Democratic nominee.

Dan Phillips: I am HUGELY sympathetic to your position. Unfortunately, you (and I) *WILL* "go down fighting" if you/we don’t compromise, or at least find a way to make our voices and votes count. Our political process *IS* uglier than sausage-making, but it’s the hand we’ve been dealt. And it beats every other system of which I’m currently aware.
While I’m generally in agreement with Rep. Paul’s positions and votes, would you say he’s been an effective political leader? Has he consistently and constructively moved the debate (and legislative results) in a helpful direction?

Gary Seaton: Actually I have moved quite a bit myself. I normally vote Constitution Party and write off the GOP nomination as irrelevant. The reason I am trying to concern myself with the GOP nomination this time is because the issue of immigration is so important that I am putting most of my normal demands for purity on the back burner. The reason immigration is so important is because if we don’t get a handle on it, all the other conservative issues (spending, downsizing government, abortion, taxes, guns, etc.) will be dead letters because we will have third world style leftist politics here if we import huge numbers of people from the third world.

Ron Paul actually does an excellent job of keeping all the various "far right" constituencies happy, and he manages to get re-elected with about the same percentage of the vote that he would get if he were a "milk toast" conservative. Purist politicians would do well to learn from him. He is the closet thing to a "fusion" conservative/libertarian candidate that I have seen. But he is limited by being one man. He introduces bills which have the benefit of smoking out who is just a talker from who is the real thing. For example, he frequently introduces a "withdraw from the UN" bill. Who co-sponsors that with him is very helpful information. In that he does conservatives an invaluable service.

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