the circus

Frank Rich on the National Circus: Bully Romney and the Gay Vote

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The polls have not been too kind to Obama’s gay-marriage announcement. Both New York Times/CBS and USA Today/Gallup show around 25 percent of voters saying they’re “less likely” to vote for him because of it. Is Obama going to regret that he did this now?
No. I think it’s safe to say that that 25 percent wasn’t going to vote for him anyway. Some young voters may be energized by his stand. So, obviously, are some donors. Perhaps some black voters down on gay marriage will stay at home. Perhaps. But in political terms, I’d say Obama’s move is either a wash or a plus. In the long-term perspective of history, his endorsement of marriage equality is a big plus.

Alternatively, could Romney be hurt by his association with the anti-gay-marriage forces?
Clearly he thinks so. When he spoke at Jerry Falwell’s old base, Liberty University, in Virginia last week, Mitt was minimalist in his obligatory endorsement of marriage between “one man and one woman.” Even so, the prominent Romney supporter Bill White, the former president of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, had such a strong visceral response to these mild words that he demanded that the campaign return his contribution ($2,500, the maximum). It had finally sunk in that the presumptive GOP nominee was supporting, as White put it, “a constitutional amendment which would attempt to make my own legal and blessed marriage null and void.”

Some of that same Romney commencement speech was devoted to reassuring evangelical Christians that they needn’t fear a Mormon in the White House.
Yes, but most tellingly, he did not mention the word “Mormon.” At least in the big speech he gave in Texas to defend his faith during his 2008 run, Romney managed to say the actual word out loud once.

What’s that about?
Well, part of it may be because he didn’t want to remind the audience at Liberty that his faith, and some of his own prominent ancestors, at one point did not buy into the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman. But more seriously, this is yet another indicator that Romney is uncomfortable talking in public about his faith, even though it has been a mainstay of his life and even though his résumé includes stints as a Mormon lay official. He still doesn’t realize that avoiding the subject makes him look as if he’s hiding something. If he talked candidly about it — or for that matter about anything that he cares about passionately that is not fiscal, corporate, or involving his immediate family — he might come across as human, which should be high on his to-do list in a presidential race.

Is the incident where he bullied a gay student at prep school fair game in a presidential campaign?
As many have said, what is fair game is his strange, chuckling denial of any knowledge of a fairly violent prank that other participants and eyewitnesses remember so vividly. If no other similar incidents turn up, that will be the end of it. How big an “if” that is, I don’t know. Much of Romney’s past remains a mystery to me, as it does to most Americans. Meanwhile Sondheim aficionados can savor a musical recounting of the bullying incident, “Romney Mitt, the Demon Barber of Wall Street.”

The third-party group Americans Elect announced yesterday that although they had “achieved every stated operational goal,” no candidate had gained enough support to actually get nominated at their online convention. Was this idea doomed from the start? 
This is a fascinating episode that deserves far more scrutiny. In a very short time this “centrist” group spent $35 million on its effort to harm Obama’s reelection campaign by plotting to place a moderate candidate on the ballot as a spoiler in all 50 states. Americans Elect’s most prominent and vocal supporters were Thomas L. Friedman of the Times, the Obama–loathing pollster Douglas Schoen (a nominal Democrat), and Mark McKinnon, the former George W. Bush ad guy who plays a congenial centrist on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. The hope was to get a Michael Bloomberg, Jon Huntsman, or David Petraeus to run; in the end, the leading Americans Elect candidate was the former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, best known for being too inept to rise to the low single-digits polling level of even Huntsman during the GOP presidential primary contest last fall. My question: Who gave that $35 million and where did it all vanish in a matter of months? Paul Krugman, who has been relishing the demise of Americans Elect and slyly mocking his colleague Friedman for his support of it, should stay on the case.

Do you think we’ll see even a quasi-viable third-party challenge? 
Ron Paul, who finally gave up the ghost of his GOP presidential campaign this week, is now officially available. Bloomberg, who has the means to do it, presumably has the sense not to. 

JPMorgan Chase announced last week that it had lost $2 billion on bad trades. This week, Obama praised JPMorgan as “one of the best-managed banks there is” and its CEO Jamie Dimon as “one of the smartest bankers we’ve got.” Dimon has spent most of the last two years railing against Obama and banking reform. What gives?
This again raises the question about the Obama campaign’s quality control that I brought up last week. The president may have praised Dimon in the greater cause of making the case for financial reform. But he did so just as his campaign was rolling out a vicious ad branding Romney as a vulture capitalist. Indeed, the ad dips into Matt Taibbi–speak to tar Bain as something worse than a vulture — “a vampire” that “sucked the life” out of a Kansas City, Missouri, steel mill, making Bain’s partners some $12 million while costing 750 workers their jobs.  So there was the president on The View sending out a sound bite that blurred the contrast between him and the man from Bain. By praising Dimon and JPMorgan, Obama was reminding voters of his own administration’s considerable ties to Wall Street, its failure to hold any of the perpetrators of the crash accountable, and its inability to curb the continued bulking up of the too-big-to-fail banks that brought the world economy to the brink of ruin.

Still, there’s that glow of Obama’s stand on same-sex marriage. Newsweek put him on its cover as the “first gay president.” Obama has also been called the “first Jewish president” (we put it on a cover even). What’s next?  
Let us not forget that Toni Morrison also christened Bill Clinton “the first black president” and that there are those birthers out there who’ve insisted Obama is the first Muslim president. I fear that once we elected our first African-American president, and while we still await our first woman president, we started running out of “firsts.” Though Romney, in addition to being the first Mormon in the White House, could rightly be called our first Audio-Animatronic president as well. 

Frank Rich: Bully Romney and the Gay Vote