As he attempts to quell the controversy over his recent comments about the alleged dependency habits of nearly half of all Americans, Mitt Romney may have a bigger challenge ahead: inspiring social conservatives to vote for him. Ever since he entered the presidential sweepstakes, a segment of social conservatives have been hesitant to support him.
Though they welcome converts to their cause, the sincerity of Romney’s evolution, from social liberalism to traditionalism, is still questioned. While many believe he has earned their trust, others haven’t been persuaded—at least not yet–and their apprehensions were heightened by a string of recent events.
First, in an interview with CBS news, shortly before the GOP convention, Romney declared: “My position has been clear throughout this campaign. I’m in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest and the health and life of the mother.”
As is well-known, a “health” exception for abortion can be so broadly defined as to allow for virtually any kind of abortion. (In fact, Roe v. Wade and its companion case Doe v. Bolton made this clear).
A spokesman for the Romney campaign quickly tried to recover: “Gov. Romney’s position is clear: he opposes abortion except for cases of rape, incest and where the life of the mother is threatened.”
The “health” exception was dropped, but a number of pro-lifers weren’t altogether impressed. Catholic Culture’s Phil Lawler said of Romney:
“His campaign now says that his latest gaffe-a virtual acceptance of the Roe decision—was a misstatement of his real beliefs. But it’s the sort of misstatement that could only be made by someone who has not devoted enough attention to the issue to recognize the pitfalls in the language.”
There was more to the CBS interview:
“Romney, however, told [reporter Scott] Pelley that the issue amounts to a distraction. ‘Recognize this is the decision that will be made by the Supreme Court. The Democrats try and make this a political issue every four years, but this is a matter in the courts.
It’s been settled for some time in the courts.’” To which Lawler replied:
“The issue is settled, he says. Does that statement fill you with confidence that Romney would seize an opportunity to press the offensive against abortion? Does the GOP candidate sound anxious to appoint federal judges who would be likely to re-open a question that has already been settled?”
As if to underscore Lawler’s concern, Romney then delivered his convention acceptance speech, which—while well-received in some quarters–gave limited attention to social issues:
“As President, I will protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage. And I will guarantee America’s first liberty: the freedom of religion.”
Excellent—especially in contrast to an Administration which glaringly dishonors all three—but don’t the gravity of these issues merit more than a mere three lines?
Governor Romney had an opportunity to expand upon his moral and cultural vision for America at the recent Values Voter Summit, but chose not to attend personally. Instead, he sent a taped message in which he again pledged to “uphold the sanctity of life, “defend marriage, not try to redefine it,” and “preserve the American spirit of one nation under God.”
But, as soon as one thought he might develop those themes—which would have been natural for a values summit—Romney immediately switched back to his seemingly favorite topic, economics. (Watch his video address here.)
In a Los Angeles Times piece about Romney’s message to the values Summit, Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said that he felt Romney was gaining traction among social conservatives, despite his rocky relationship with them. Then came this revealing comment: “Perkins said the enthusiasm among social conservatives was building, which he attributed more to Obama administration policies than to Romney.” (Emphasis added).
If this election turns out to be close, Governor Romney is going to need every traditionalist vote he can to win. He can’t just expect to back into the Presidency, or assume enough people will support him because he is a successful businessman, or because he isn’t Barack Obama. Romney needs to attract conservative-minded independents and Democrats with more developed and inspiring talks about their deepest held convictions, even as he outlines and highlights his economic plans for a struggling America.
In fairness to Governor Romney, and as Hugh Hewitt shows in his admirable biography of him, the Governor can be much more than a one-dimensional “money man,” and can, in fact, speak eloquently about innocent human life and the social issues– at length and in-depth– when he chooses to. That candidate, however, hasn’t been seen much lately. The question is, when will that Mitt Romney show up in the campaign, and if he does, will it be in time to make a difference?