Notes on Romney speech

It took me a lot of time to process Mitt Romney’s speech tonight. I had seen John McCain’s and Sam Brownback’s on TV. Romney’s was in sharp contrast to the others. He offered lots of details and great quotes like:

  • "Time to make out of wedlock births out of fashion."
  • "I will be a prolife president. Just like I was a pro-life governor," (this is, of course, totally misleading, but, hey, it’s Mitt, what do you expect?)
  • "The first family represents America to the world." (I am not sure that I buy this, but it is a fantastic Clinton contrast)

The upshot is that he seemed to offer the laundry list policy objectives of the Family Research Council, while skirting the problematic ones. People were clearly, being told what they wanted to hear. They responded well to him.

But there were some problems. He had two standing ovations. One for the FMA, and one at the end. But, there was a group of people standing at the back who were clearly and pointedly not-standing.

But several things struck me.

First, Romney said that his wife would focus on encouraging marriage while they were in the White House. What struck me about this is that she should say this, not him. She is not allowed to speak for him, but he can speak for her? That’s very strange.

Second, he also proposed a series of things that are … already happening. It is like he took an old version of the FRC position papers and repeated them with better lines. Except that a lot of those policies are getting implemented.

Third, he talked about internet pornography. I was struck by this because this is one of McCain’s issues, but McCain didn’t mention it in his speech.

In general, people that I talked to after the speech felt like he had said everything that he was supposed to say. He had performed very, very well. But it wasn’t enough for them. They wanted more. And they felt like he was performing. And it was clear that there was some substantial anti-Mormon bias in the room.

When reporters miss the story: Rudy and conservatives.

Alan Fram AP’s story about Rudy Giuliani and conservatives fundamentally misses the point. He says, "Giuliani’s Conservative Vote Tenuous." That would be true, if it turned out that his lead in polls was based on the vote of conservatives who don’t know what he thinks on issues. It seems that the important analysis of his story is:

Yet a close look suggests his support from the GOP’s potent right wing is less than meets the eye, according to recent Associated Press-Ipsos polls.

But the important point is that, Rudy Giuliani holds the lead in-spite of weak support from conservatives. Rudy has found a possibly winning coalition does not involve the most conservative elements of the party.  That, dear reader, is a story. That shows that his path to winning the nomination is less-than-tenuous. But the reporter doesn’t seem to understand that the goal in a primary is to build coalitions within the party.

Let’s look at the facts from the poll:

Conservatives, evangelical and born-again voters, and strongly loyal Republicans who back Giuliani tend to be less conservative, less religiously active and less supportive of President Bush than those favoring Fred Thompson, Giuliani’s chief rival so far, the surveys show.

Is that news? That Rudy’s conservatives are less conservative?

And:

  • Just 37 percent of Giuliani’s conservatives call themselves strongly Republican, compared to 52 percent of Thompson’s.
  • While 22 percent of Giuliani’s evangelical or born-again Christian supporters say they are very conservative, 47 percent of Thompson’s do.
  • Sixty-four percent of Giuliani’s supporters approve of Bush’s performance, compared to 78 percent of Thompson’s.

Isn’t this fantastic news for the Giuliani campaign? Doesn’t this tell us that his lead is based on people who aren’t going to go fleeing when someone (who?) puts up ads saying that he’s a liberal?

Isn’t this a reason for confidence? They know he is pro-choice, gay-friendly, etc. And they still support him. What additional information is going to make Rudy’s numbers fall? Probably not information about abortion, etc.

At least the reporters aren’t alone in their ignorance. The conservative interest groups don’t get it either.

The limits of interest group leaders

Many people have commented on Bob Novak’s piece in the Post today. I thought that the most interesting point was, perhaps, this one:

But the situation is not a simple confrontation between the Christian right and Giuliani. The Gallup data suggest that Dobson and the Salt Lake City group may be out of touch with rank-and-file churchgoers. A well-known social conservative, who asked that his name not be used, is disturbed by Dobson’s statement he could not vote for Giuliani under any circumstances. Instead of being considered the lesser of two evils in a possible race against Sen. Hillary Clinton, Giuliani seems to be the positive choice of millions of religious Americans.

It is clear that everyone is trying to pick Rudy Giuliani as their primary opponent. Then, they reckon, social conservatives will have to go with them. Mitt Romney is trying, and to some extent succeeding, in rallying some social conservatives to his side. Fred Thompson also is. Today a Fred Thompson associate told me that, "it’s fair to say that I don’t think Land is terribly out of sorts over his early support of Fred Thompson. The two speak regularly, and I don’t think it’s innaccurate to say that he remains supportive."

But… what if it isn’t true? What if people go with Giuliani? To beat Hillary. Or they are worried about competence in running the country? Or they just by the Romney or Thompson stories?

Romney, Social Conservatives, and the Ocean ad

Earlier in the week, Mitt Romney released his "Ocean" ad. Jonathan Martin, typically exuberant in his praise of Romney, had this to say:

Second, it seems as though this ad is yet more evidence of Romney trying to "close the deal" with social conservatives.  The campaign increasingly views Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani as their main threats and wants to get to their right.  So this is part and parcel of the "three-legged stool" message in which Mitt emphasizes the need for a candidate who is economically, fiscally and socially conservative.

I don’t buy this "close the deal" language. For the last several weeks, Romney has been attacked by social conservative leaders for making money off the peddling of porn. Romney is not trying to "close the deal." He is asking for a phone call or coffee to introduce himself. Let’s actually talk about facts here. A recent AP-Ipsos poll found:

None of the top candidates has a clear lead among Christian evangelicals, a critical part of the GOP base that has had considerable sway in past Republican primaries. Giuliani, a thrice-married backer of abortion rights and gay rights, had 20 percent support — roughly even with Thompson and McCain who have one divorce each in their pasts. Romney, a Mormon who has been married for three decades, was in the single digits.

The hope for Romney is that this is a name-id problem, not a substance problem. I don’t think it is for two reasons. Thompson’s name ID is consistently lower than Romney’s but Thompson is consistently beating Romney in these groups.  People know things about Mitt Romney and don’t like him because of it. Any review of his polling numbers will tell you that.

Now, Justin Hart, who is on Romney’s Faith and Values Steering Committee addresses the ad, and the porn dustup-like this:

Instead, I knew something that Gary didn’t… Governor Romney is the only major candidate willing to publically take action on this issue. I also knew that behind the scenes the Romney camp was going to spend actual dollars addressing this issue with a new TV ad. … In my opinion, Romney’s record shows that he could very well effect that change to happen. The fact that he included a serious anti-pornography group on his Faith and Values committee suggests this as well.

His answer seems to be "at least Romney is talking about my issue." Which is an important point. I should note that Justin is misrepresenting Romney here.  Romney did not include an "anti-pornography group" so much as a person. In fact the release clearly states that the groups are not endorsing, only the individuals. Justin, whose email address is ldsblogger@…..com was a Romney supporter long before he was working at the Lighted Candle Society. If Romney’s "actions" are (1) a misrepresentation, (2) meaningless, and (3) merely words, than there is a real question. After all, isn’t the concern for him that it is all just words, smoke and mirrors? Liz Mair captured this point:

Of course, that’s one of the criticisms I have of Romney and his entire campaign anyway. It’s all about figuring out what makes you look ideal to the largest number of diligent voters and then saying it, no matter how asinine, meaningless, or factually incorrect it is. The image, and getting votes, is literally 100% of what matters. At this stage in the game, nothing else seems to count at all. Real commitment to concrete, discernible principles or ideas certainly takes a back step to what’s popular with "The Base"

Romney’s campaign is that the same strategies that sell canned tomatoes (new packaging, smiling faces, perfect hair, etc.) will work for candidates. We shall see. Our primary electorate might just fall for it, but I can’t see how his guy gets through the general election.

Fred and abortion

The whole thing about whether Fred Thompson is pro-life or not is kind of bizarre, especially when it is pushed by Mitt Romney’s campaign.

David Brody has a good rundown of the current critique. In the end, he has the right analysis:

I think at the end of the day these abortion incidents from the 1990’s probably don’t amount to much. Listen, the reality is Thompson was a 100% national Right to Life guy. His Planned Parenthood score was 0. Those numbers mean something. Was the pro-life cause his number one issue? No. Number two? No. On the list? Probably but not high. The social conservative leaders I’ve spoken to want to make sure the next President will be a reliable vote on the life issue. As long as he doesn’t go off the reservation, then there’s no problem. What I’m hearing is that Thompson is saying all the right things to certain religious leaders and they are taking to him.

The first point is that his record is pretty solid, outside of some statements. The fact is that the questions that the issues that Brody brings out aren’t where the action is. And, more important for many of the Washington groups. They want access and a relationship. And Thompson is clearly willing to give that. In many ways, that is why Romney is attractive and John McCain may not be. It is not because of McCain’s stances on the issue — isn’t he the only first tier candidate who supports a Human Life amendment? — but rather that the groups don’t think that they will get access to him.

Furthermore, Fred, unlike Romney, has a good conversion story:

Thompson did however in 1994 fill out a survey for Project Vote Smart in which he supported legal first-trimester abortion. However Thompson’s voting record does not reflect this, and Thompson says his views on abortion deepened greatly after watching a sonogram of his 3 year-old daughter.

If Fred has to compare his conversion story to Romney’s, Fred wins. After all, Romney’s doesn’t involve his 5 sons or 10 grandkids. It involves some cells in a petri dish and a discussion with a scientist in an office.

Evangelical Leader: “Rudy must be stopped”

The Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody has an interesting summary of a discussion that he had with an evangelical leader. There is lots of happy-talk about Fred Thompson. But, perhaps, the most interesting is the comment about Rudy Giuliani:

As a matter of fact, he told me point blank, "Rudy must be stopped" and there is a conversation underway on how to do that.

Brody also discussed the issues with Mitt Romney, who was described as  "doesn’t cut it":

Now, as for Mitt Romney, this Evangelical leader who is defintely a mover and a shaker, told me that there is an uncomfortability with Romney. I’m told that certain Evangelical leaders don’t by in to the multiple conversions and that’s why Thompson would get their support instead of Romney. But that decision HAS NOT been made yet.

Falwell and the debate

NYT’s Adam Nagourney had this to say:

1) Who will be the most effusive in paying tribute to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority and a great power in the evangelical wing of the party? Will Mr. Falwell be to this debate what Ronald Reagan was to the Republican presidential candidates debate 12 days ago at the Ronald Reagan Library? Watch Senator John McCain of Arizona in particular: as part of his overall move to the right earlier in the campaign, he made a point of publicly embracing Mr. Falwell after having criticized him as an agent of “intolerance.”

I don’t think that Nagourney quite gets it right. As many have noted Dobson and Colson have much more influence with today’s voters.

I suspect that this will work as a retrospective. People will talk about the contributions of the Moral Majority and the links with Ronald Reagan. By talking about the partnership people get to state their support for the role of conservative Christians in politics without saying things on the record that are more difficult to quote.

Romney’s Silver Space Boot strikes again!

Mitt Romney is developing a real gaffe problem when it comes to science fiction. I have decided to call these his "silver space boot" (in mouth) problem. I will, perhaps, get in trouble for referencing Ann Richard’s "born with a silver foot in his mouth" line.

This time, he confuses French marriage law with something he read in a science fiction book based on the Book of Mormon! What? I mean, I have read a lot of science fiction, including a lot of Orson Scott Card. But I would never, never confuse that with French marriage law. (H/T Wonkette)

I thought this was the guy who "gather[ed] data", not the guy who makes it up as he goes along.

Debate Mitt-flop Watch: Stem Cell

Mitt Romney tried to dodge a question on embryonic stem-cell research, but Chris Matthews asked the tough questions. Again, Mitt flopped. Last night he said:

MODERATOR: And you won’t take any from these fertility clinics to use either?

ROMNEY: I’m happy to allow that to — or I shouldn’t say happy.It’s fine for that to be allowed, to be legal. I won’t use our government funds for that. Instead, I want our governments to be used on Dr. Hurlbut’s method, which is altered nuclear transfer.

However, he wrote in the Boston Globe (see my previous post), when he vetoed a stem-cell bill:

Some stem cells today are obtained from surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization. I support that research, provided that those embryos are obtained after a rigorous parental consent process … Known as altered nuclear transfer, this method could allow researchers to obtain embryonic stem cells without the moral shortcut of cloning and destroying a human embryo.

A bill that includes methods such as these and bans all human cloning would receive my full support.

In other words, he said he would fund IVF leftover research. Now he won’t.

Debate Mitt-flop watch: Church and State

I was going to write on this but Deal Hudson beat me to it, and more articulately. Romney’s record:

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney ordered Catholic hospitals to administer emergency contraception to women who claim they had been raped.

Romney’s words last night:

I don’t say anything to Roman Catholic bishops. They can do whatever the heck they want. Roman Catholic bishops are in a private institution, a religion, and they can do whatever they want in a religion.

Whatever they want but follow their conscience….

What changed? Of course, Mitt Romney’s relationship to his religion is, unfairly, being scrutinized. So he changes positions.

Mitt Romney. Everything blows in the wind but his hair.