As former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney declared his presidential candidacy Tuesday at Dearborn, Michigan’s Henry Ford Museum, he could not have been more telegenic. With an angular jaw and a head full of slicked-back, dark hair, Romney is the GOP’s George Clooney. Who needs the White House? Romney should fly to Hollywood and become a movie star. He’s already a highly skilled actor.
Romney is either a true, rock-ribbed conservative who played a Rockefeller Republican to get elected in Massachusetts, or he is a genuine, limousine liberal portraying a conservative to win the 2008 GOP nomination. This fine thespian has lost himself so thoroughly in both these roles that no one really knows where the performer ends and the characters begin.
Studying Romney’s lines only muddles things. His present and past statements on abortion, gays, guns, taxes, and Ronald Reagan each conflict diametrically, like pairs of locomotives racing toward one another from opposite directions.
Just listen to today’s Romney on abortion:
“I am pro-life,” Romney wrote in a July 26, 2005 Boston Globe op-ed. “I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother. I wish the people of America agreed, and that the laws of our nation could reflect that view.”
He declared last year: “Roe v. Wade does not serve the country well and is another example of judges making the law instead of interpreting the Constitution.”
But yesteryear’s Romney could not have disagreed more.
“Let me make this very clear,” Romney said in October 2002, “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose.”
During an unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid, he replied to Democratic incumbent Ted Kennedy’s charge that Romney was not pro-choice, but “multiple choice” on abortion:
“Many, many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion,” Romney said in an October 1994 debate with Kennedy. “It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that, or be a multiple choice. Thank you very much.”
He also said in 1994: “I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, we should sustain and support it.”
Today’s Romney may be America’s most outspoken voice against gay marriage. He hardly seems broadly supportive of gay rights, either.
“In order to protect the institution of marriage, we must prevent it from being redefined by judges like those here in Massachusetts,” Romney wrote then-Senator Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) last June, endorsing a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
“From Day One, I have opposed the move for same-sex marriage, and its equivalent, civil unions,” Romney told South Carolina Republicans on February 21, 2005. As for gay couples, he added, “Some of them are actually having children born to them.”
But yesteryear’s Romney aimed to please gay voters, perhaps even more than could his Democratic opponents.
In 2002, Romney and Kerry Healey, his gubernatorial running mate, produced posters that said, “Mitt and Kerry Wish You a Great Pride Weekend! All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.”
In October 1994, Romney said in a debate against Senator Kennedy, “I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”
As the Boston Globe reported that October 17, Romney told the gay Log Cabin Republicans, “As we seek to establish full equality” for gays, “I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent,” Ted Kennedy.
Romney was even more specific in an August 25, 1994 interview with Bay Windows, a Boston-based gay newspaper.
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. It’s a little like if Eugene McCarthy was [sic] arguing in favor of recognizing China; people would have called him a nut. But when Richard Nixon does it, it becomes reasonable. When Ted says it, it’s extreme; when I say it, it’s mainstream.
Romney also said in that interview: “The authorization of marriage on a same-sex basis falls under state jurisdiction.”
Today’s Romney sounds more like yesteryear’s Romney on civil unions, which both Romneys eventually favored.
“I am only supporting civil unions if gay marriage is the alternative,” Romney told the Boston Globe’s Frank Phillips two days after he decried civil unions while visiting the Palmetto State.
“I have a gun of my own,” today’s Romney said January 10 on the Internet program, The Glenn and Helen Show. “I go hunting myself. I’m a member of the [National Rifle Association] and believe firmly in the right to bear arms. In our state…there are a series of laws restricting gun ownership in various ways. Over the past four years, I’ve worked very closely with the Gun Owners’ Action League here, which is an affiliate of the NRA, and we’ve made some changes which I think they feel have been positive steps.”
Yesteryear’s Romney, however, was quite gun-shy.
“We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts,” Romney said in his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. “I support them. I won’t chip away at them.” In fact, as governor, Romney signed America’s first state-level assault-weapons ban.
“These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense,” Romney said in 2004. “They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”
Yesteryear’s Romney also backed a federal assault-weapons ban and the national Brady Bill, which created a five-day wait for handgun purchases. “That’s not going to make me the hero of the NRA,” Romney said in 1994. However, he added: “I don’t line up with the NRA.”
Today’s Romney signed Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge last New Year’s Eve. Romney said February 7 that it was “absolutely critical” to “make the tax cuts permanent,” referring to President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax reductions.
But yesteryear’s Romney smiled more on taxes.
In an April 10, 2003 meeting with the Massachusetts congressional delegation in Washington, Romney failed to endorse President Bush’s $726 billion tax-cut proposal then before Congress.
“I was very pleased,” Rep. Barney Frank (D., Massachusetts) told the Boston Globe’s Wayne Washington and Glen Johnson after the pow-wow. “Here you have a freshman governor refusing to endorse a tax cut presented by a Republican president at the height of his wartime popularity.”
Romney also reportedly signaled potential support for a federal gasoline-tax increase. “He wants it dedicated to transportation construction,” Rep. Michael Capuano (D – Massachusetts) told the Globe.
While Romney did not raise income taxes, he hiked and created $501.5 million in fees and closed business-tax loopholes to collect another $140 million.
As for the pledge, Romney said in 2002 that he would not “sign a document which would prevent me from being able to look specifically at the revenue needs of the Commonwealth.” A Romney spokesman dismissed taxfighter Grover Norquist’s pledge as “government by gimmickry.”
Today’s Romney speaks glowingly of America’s 40th president.
“Ronald Reagan is…my hero,” Romney said two years ago, as the Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh recalled January 19. “I believe that our party’s ascendancy began with Ronald Reagan’s brand of visionary and courageous leadership.”
But yesteryear’s Romney was much cooler toward the man who, justifiably, is a veritable saint on the American Right. As Romney said in his 1994 debate with Kennedy: “I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”
Romney should warm up to Reagan. After all, he made it big by moving from acting into politics. Mitt Romney’s best bet for fame and fortune may be to follow Ronald Reagan’s footsteps — in reverse.
– Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.