The National Right to Life Committee’s decision to endorse Fred Thompson for president not only made a strong statement about Thompson; it also said something about Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has done everything he can to convince social conservatives that his conversion to the pro-life cause in late 2004 was genuine and that today he is the best candidate to represent social conservatives’ concerns. Yet National Right to Life officials chose someone else.
“It shows that they have lingering doubts about Romney’s real commitment,” says an influential social conservative who has sometimes been allied with the committee. “It came down to a choice between Thompson and Romney, and Thompson had the longer record.”
The endorsement is just the latest evidence that Romney has still not closed the deal with those voters for whom abortion and other social issues are paramount. Perhaps more than any others, those voters know Romney’s record. He ran as a strongly pro-choice Republican in 1994, when he unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, and again in 2002, when he successfully ran for governor. Then, in late 2004, in the midst of a debate in the Massachusetts legislature over stem-cell research, he changed his mind on abortion, and later, in 2005, wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe
explaining that he is now pro-life. Since those changes occurred so recently, and since they came at the same time Romney was beginning to explore a run for president — his political action committee, Commonwealth PAC, was formed in July 2004, a few months before his stem-cell decision — a number of pro-life voters view his conversion with some suspicion.
During a campaign ride through northeastern Iowa recently, I asked Romney about the people he still has to convince. How does he ease their concerns? At first, he suggested that his problems are the work of other candidates — “Opposition campaigns do a good job of trying to confuse people,” he told me. “That’s part of opposition campaign work.” But then, Romney said his most important qualification is his record.
“If someone wants to know what my positions are, they simply have to look at what I did as governor,” he told me, “and the record that I have as governor is, I believe, entirely consistent with the record I have as a candidate for president.”
“Specifically on the issue of life?”
“Particularly on the issue of life,” Romney said. “The first time a bill reached my desk that dealt with life, and the taking of life” — the stem-cell measure — ”I came down on the side of life. And as I served as governor, several bills had measures that related to life. I came down on the side of the sanctity of life, and at the end of my administration the Massachusetts Citizens for Life gave me the leadership award for my contribution towards protecting human life.”