Are some social conservatives taking a counterproductive stance on the Mitt Romney flap I discussed in this morning’s column? Ramesh Ponnuru thinks so, asking whether Tony Perkins and Paul Weyrich really intend to “cast out anyone who has come over time to agree with them.” He says if that’s the case, social conservatives are “going to have to kick out Sam Brownback, too.”
This strikes me as a bit of a misreading. Romney isn’t running as a candiate who is “acceptable” to social conservatives. He is trying to prove that he is a better candidate on social issues than front-runners John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani. It seems to me that social conservatives aren’t asking very much when they demand that Romney’s record square with a major rationale for his candidacy. His social-issues conversion story is a significant part of his attraction, so it needs to be convincing.
This is especially true because Romney, a one-term governor, has a very short record. By 2008, Sam Brownback will be running on an 18-year conservative voting record, including at least a decade of serious commitment to social issues. The only background we will be able to judge Romney’s ’08 campaign promises against will be his four years as governor and his two previous campaigns for elective office.
What has some people worried is the fact that the positions Romney took on hot-button social issues during those two campaigns were frequently different than the ones he is taking today — not just on gay rights but also on abortion. I expect at some point the other shoe will drop on gun control, though I’m not aware of any statements the governor has made suggesting he has moved right on Second Amendment issues. More importantly, the positions Romney took in 2002 are far closer to his 1994 positions than his new ones.
In every campaign Romney has run, there have been questions about his social-issues stands. Most of the statements on gay rights and abortion that have gotten Romney in trouble with social conservatives were made when he was being pressed by
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