Mitt Romney’s problem with the Republican Party is not just that he previously held liberal positions on a wide-ranging array of issues. That can be explained away, at least a bit, as pandering necessary to win votes in a Democratic state. The deeper problem is that Romney was promising behind closed doors to act as essentially a sleeper agent within the Republican Party, adopting liberal stances, rising to national prominence, and thereby legitimizing them and transforming the Party from within. Today’s Washington Post has more detail:
Mitt Romney was firm and direct with the abortion rights advocates sitting in his office nine years ago, assuring the group that if elected Massachusetts governor, he would protect the state’s abortion laws.
Then, as the meeting drew to a close, the businessman offered an intriguing suggestion — that he would rise to national prominence in the Republican Party as a victor in a liberal state and could use his influence to soften the GOP’s hard-line opposition to abortion.
He would be a “good voice in the party” for their cause, and his moderation on the issue would be “widely written about,” he said, according to detailed notes taken by an officer of the group, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.
“You need someone like me in Washington,” several participants recalled Romney saying that day in September 2002, an apparent reference to his future ambitions.
That’s a very smart argument. Liberals have far more to gain by having a Republican advocate their views than by having a Democrat advocate their views. The article proceeds to detail meetings in which Romney told gay-rights activists the same thing:
In an Aug. 25, 1994, interview with Bay Windows, a gay newspaper in Boston, he offered this pitch, according to excerpts published on the paper’s Web site: “There’s something to be said for having a Republican who supports civil rights in this broader context, including sexual orientation. When Ted Kennedy speaks on gay rights, he’s seen as an extremist. When Mitt Romney speaks on gay rights he’s seen as a centrist and a moderate.
Now, conservatives can live with this if they think that once in office Romney will have to watch out for his right flank at all times. "Having flipped, he could not flop without risking a conservative revolt," writes former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. "As a result, conservatives would have considerable leverage over a Romney administration."
That’s not crazy. It’s also possible to believe Romney was simply conning liberals all along — that’s something he has hinted at in debates, referencing the fact that he was running in Massachusetts. (He couldn’t oppose abortion in Massachusetts — he’s running for office, for Pete’s sake.) Of course the risk of nominating a con artist is that there’s always the chance he’s conning you.