Politics & Media
Apr 22, 2010, 06:49AM

Mitt Romney, 2012?

Massachusetts, not Mormonism, is Mitt's problem.

Mitt romney.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Mitt Romney is looking like the man to beat for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The former Massachusetts governor has history on his side: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain won the GOP nod after finishing second in the party's last round of competitive primaries.
Romney also benefits from the fact that the candidates who perform best against him in national polls—former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and erstwhile Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- are by no means a lock to run. And Romney positively clobbers other Republicans taking a look at the race, such as unknown Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
But Romney seemed to have a realistic path to the nomination in 2008, only to be upended by Huckabee. Huckabee's strong support from social conservatives cost Romney the Iowa caucuses and any momentum heading into New Hampshire. He also prevented Romney from building the base in the South he would need to run a successful campaign from John McCain's right.
At the time, many people attributed Huckabee's rise and Romney's fall to the "Mormon problem"—many evangelicals had deep misgivings about supporting a Mormon candidate and felt more comfortable with a Southern Baptist preacher. This possibility can't be dismissed, given polls showing that more than half of evangelicals to some extent share these concerns.
Another possibility must also be considered, however; that Mitt Romney really suffered a Massachusetts problem. To win in a Democratic state, Romney has had to repeatedly take positions at variance with those favored by the national Republican electorate. Running for Senate in 1994, Romney promised the Log Cabin Club he would be a more effective advocate of gay rights than Democratic incumbent Ted Kennedy. After receiving an endorsement from Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Romney adviser Charlie Manning offered this remarkable explanation: "[Kennedy] was pro-life before Roe v. Wade and now he's changed. Mitt has always been consistent in his pro-choice position and that's why the group respects him."
During his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Romney vigorously denied accepting the group's backing. "I don't know about the endorsement of the Mass Citizens for Life," he indignantly told Democratic rival Shannon O'Brien in a televised debate. "I didn't seek it, I didn't ask for it… When you say I accepted, I didn't write them a letter and say, 'Thank you very much for your endorsement.'"
In the age of YouTube, Romney could not easily escape from his emphatic declarations of social liberalism—which were every bit as likely to repel evangelicals as the finer points of Mormon doctrine. Now Romney once again faces a Massachusetts problem: the commonwealth's health care reform law.
Key aspects of the Massachusetts law—dubbed "Romneycare" by detractors—are similar to the controversial federal legislation signed by President Barack Obama: the individual mandate, subsidies for the purchase of health insurance, and government-managed exchanges to match consumers with insurers. Jonathan Gruber, the MIT health care economist who advised both Romney and Obama, told The Wall Street Journal, "If any one person in the world deserves credit for where we are now, it's Mitt Romney... He designed the structure of the federal bill." White House political adviser David Axelrod said much the same thing: "We're just trying to give the rest of America the same opportunities that the people of Massachusetts have."
There's just one problem: Republicans nationally don't want what Massachusetts has and they are clamoring for the repeal of what Obama just gave them. Just like his flip-flop on abortion, Romney has tried to deal with this in various ways. Sometimes, he argues that there are important distinctions between his health care reform and Obama's. Other times, he makes a federalist argument. Still other times, Romney is willing to accept the president's pat on the back. "[Obama is] saying that I was the guy that came up with the idea for what he did," The New York Times quoted Romney as saying. "If ever again somewhere down the road I would be debating him, I would be happy to take credit for his accomplishment."
Romney's Republican primary opponents would no doubt be happy to see him take credit for this accomplishment too. Romney faces the same dilemma on health care reform that he once did on abortion and other social issues: He can run from his Bay State record and be distrusted or he can embrace his Massachusetts moderation and be despised.
Either way, the result could be defeat. For a Republican on the road to the White House, Massachusetts may be a dead end.
W. James Antle III is associate editor of The American Spectator.

  • I can't disagree with a word of this article. Romney, as a presidential candidate in 2012 is DOA. Now, if schlumpy Tim Pawlenty looked like TX Gov. Rick Perry (who insists he won't run), he'd probably be the front-runner. Looks matter more and more. For example, in '96, TX Sen. Phil Gramm was by far the best candidate: but his bald dome and pronounced accent did him in. I don't even know why he spent the money he did.

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  • Although I agree that his Mass health care is currently hurting him, I still think his mormonism will be a bigger problem. By 2012, healthcare will be an afterthought not a main issue. Who knows, by then, repubs may be taking credit for the popular aspects of the HCR. On the other hand, the whole mormon thing never got it's full vetting during 08 because he was never in contention (other than pundits keeping him in the game). If he runs in 2012, he will be the stongest financial guy in the ring with the exception of Paul. That should give him enough early votes to warrant a full attack on Mormonism. Mind you, I'm not encouraging anit-mormon sentiment, just acknowledging the reality that many Americans find a religion founded by a convicted con man dubious at best. For that matter, I don't think you will find any scientology candidates in the near future either

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  • Phew! No Tom Cruise for the Senate from California! I'll tip a cerveza to that.

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  • Romney is a politician; but Joseph Smith was no con-man, and never convicted of any crime. Some of the people who have maligned Joseph Smith and Mormons so unfairly and unjustly are ministers who felt he would draw away their flock to an unpaid ministry. This "disinformation campaign" in one form or another has caused lots of people to doubt or fear something they really don't know much about, but don't want to make the effort to really look into. If you are a Mormon, you get used to people criticizing you for things you don't believe or that are twisted way out of context. In some ways I think it would be great to put Mormonism under the spotlight, even if Romney doesn't get elected, because Mormonism can stand the light.

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  • A fair comment, and I think you're right that Mormonism ought to be given public exposure. After all, it was Al Smith in 1928 who lost the election in main part because he was Catholic; JFK's Catholicism almost scuttled his nomination and that was 32 years later. So, yes, put a candidate and his faith under the microscope. There was so much deceit about Catholicism early in the 20th century, so much outright lying, that I'd like to see public discussion of Mormons, other than on shock radio and tv (from both sides); yay or nay, people could learn something. That said, I still believe Romney has no chance, and again, it's like the author wrote: he's a robotic flip-flopper on issues.

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