I have been stunned by the attack on Sam Brownback over the last week by Mitt Romney partisans on abortion. The substance of the allegations is that Brownback was not a solid pro-lifer in 1994 and may have been pro-choice.
The Romney people have latched on to this as a way to defend themselves from attacks that they are flip-flopping on abortion. They claim that if Sam Brownback is allowed his conversion, then so should Mitt Romney.
There are several problems with this:
First, there is the issue of recency. As a recent Weekly Standard article (apparently the article was passed around at NR’s conservative gathering in Washington this weekend. Is this going to become a theme of grassroots assaults on Romney’s record?) has demonstrated, Romney was actively pro-choice much more recently. Indeed, Romney was even trying to get the support of NARAL with lines like:
"You need someone like me in Washington." Moreover, those present recall that Romney argued that his election would make him credible in the Republican party nationally and thus help "sensible" Republicans like him overshadow more conservative elements in the GOP.
Romney was not just a moderate Republican, he wanted to be a leader of the moderate Republicans against the conservatives. And the level of activism continued into his administration.
Second, there’s the issue of genuineness and expediency. A pro-Romney blogger on Evangelicals for Mitt recently attacked Brownback, but also walked into an anti-Romney self-trap. Nathan Burd said:
Contrast that with Senator Brownback’s odd explanation for his 1994 views on life. He was pro-life, but he didn’t want to say he was pro-life? Huh?
However, Mitt Romney has the same problem. As has been noted, Romney claimed to be pro-choice in 1994 and again in 2002. But it is not well understood that be backed off this position when he was flirting with running for Governor of Utah in 2001. In fact, he wrote in a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune (full letter at end of post):
I do not wish to be labeled pro choice. I have never felt comfortable with the labels associated with the abortion issue. Because the Olympics is not about politics, I plan to keep my views on political issues to myself.
So, again, the problem for Romney is not that he went from pro-choice or "indifferent" to pro-life, which is the substance of their attack against Brownback. He went from pro-choice to somewhere between pro-life or indifferent to vociferously pro-choice to pro-life.
Then, there’s the issue of believability. One pro-life activist characterized his trouble with Romney’s conversion like this:
What I don’t understand about Romney’s “conversion” is how he contributes it to when he was studying the embryonic stem-cell research issue. I don’t understand how a tiny human embryo was able to “convert” him, but a visibly developing child in the womb wasn’t able to. Just does not make much sense to me.
Finally, the conservative movement has to ask itself a question: what price is too high. As another activist says (emphasis in the original):
We cannot give Mitt Romney a pass on this solely because he’s running against John McCain. To do so would be being dishonest to ourselves, the conservative movement, and any notions that honesty and integrity matter in politics.
This blogger continues by questioning Mitt Romney’s integrity in general. If the flip-flopper moniker (which now seems well settled in the press) moves into a problem with Romney’s integrity, he is toast.