April 12, 2012
By Jacob Combs
With Mitt Romney having all but clinched the Republican presidential nomination after Rick Santorum withdrew himself from the race, pundits and politicos alike are eyeing Romney to see whether he will truly prove himself an Etch-a-Sketch candidate by attempting to rebrand himself as a moderate for the general election. Romney is in a double-bind: the fiercly bitter primary process out of which he has just emerged forced the candidate to the extreme right on just about every issue to prove he is truly a “severe” conservative, but those very views put him in danger of thoroughly alienating the independent voters who will be so significant come November.
Nobody expects marriage equality to be a major issue of the 2012 political campaign, but the intricacies of Mitt Romney’s position on the subject illustrate the tough choice ahead of him. As POLITICO reports today, three of Romney’s most significant donors, the New York hedge fund managers Paul Singer, Dan Loeb and Cliff Asness, were all instrumental in financing and supporting the passage of marriage equality last year in New York state. According to the New York Times, Singer alone has donated $8 million to marriage equality efforts in the last five years.
The problem is not simply that Mitt Romney opposes marriage equality: as we know too well, his current position on allowing gays and lesbians to marry resembles that of President Obama. The problem is that Romney has gone much further, signing the National Organization for Marrige’s pledge that promises not only to vehemently oppose marriage equality but also to push for a federal constitutional amendment that would, theoretically, nullify the legal marriages of thousands of gay and lesbian couples nationwide. In fact, according to POLITICO, NOM President Brian Brown said that Romney was “very early” and “enthusiastic” in his support of the pledge.
Following Mitt Romney’s views on gay rights is like following a boomerang through the air: he allegedly referred to gays and lesbians as “perverse” in a 1993 speech at his church, told the Massachusetts publication Bay Windows that he would be a better candidate for gay rights than Ted Kennedy, and then told this year’s CPAC that he had saved Massachusetts from becoming the “Vegas of gay marriage.”
What Romney does regarding marriage equality in the next few months, then, can presumably be seen as indicative of a larger strategy in terms of his overall messaging. No one thinks Romney will move far in terms of his support (or rather, lack thereof) for LGBTs, but it remains to be seen whether or not he will try to distance himself from NOM in light of its recently revealed race-baiting. Romney has undeniable ties to the organization, and he gained its endorsement yesterday. Will he refuse the endorsement on the principled grounds that NOM’s tactics are undeniably abhorrent but risk furthering his image as a flip-flopper in the eyes of conservatives, or will he accept the endorsement and put himself at odds with his important donors?
Most likely, Romney will take the most craven path, and make no mention of the endorsement, hoping that it will stay a relative non-story. Most significantly, though, Romney’s bind provides the biggest opportunity to President Obama. Yesterday’s extremely disappointing news that the administration has no plans to issue an employment non-discrimination executive order, which we will cover later today on P8TT, could have a bit of a silver lining. As the Washington Blade reported, both the Obama campaign and administration have been discussing an announcement in support of marriage equality, but as one source told the Blade regarding marriage and employment non-discrimination, “My feeling is you’ll get one, you won’t get both before Election Day.” Yesterday’s news could be a preemptive attempt by the administration to lay the groundwork for a bigger announcement sometime before the election.
A marriage announcement would give Obama a chance to clarify his position as something distinct from Romney’s, and would force Romney into more of a bind on an issue that is swiftly becoming less and less contentious. It could even, conceivably, open up the possibility that the Republican fundraisers who feel strongly on the issue would choose to contribute to his campaign. Everything is converging on Obama’s eventual decision on marriage, and a pre-election evolution could have a lot more effect than a post-election one.