At the moment the political world focused on Mitt Romney’s remark about his lack of concern for the “very poor,” most Americans were already reconciled to the fact that Romney is a very rich capitalist who immensely profits by paying a lower tax rate than many middle-class Americans.
My bet is that most Americans will not let these mini-controversies affect their voting calculus.
Instead, what will matter is the contention that Romney is a flip-flopper and voters just will not know which Mitt will show up. Take Romney’s stand on gay marriage for instance. For one, most Americans polled are fine with it. But, politically worse for Romney, he’ll have a tough time explaining his position to irate and very active gay and lesbian voters during the general election.
With the news coming out of Washington State that the state senate has approved same-sex marriage virtually assuring its passage (with enough votes in the House and the governor’s promise to sign the legislation), America will now have seven states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, plus D.C.) that have legalized gay marriage.
By ordering the Justice Department to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, Obama made the administration’s views on gay marriage clear. In fact, Obama has personally evolved on the issue. At one time he only favored civil unions, but now he believes the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it codifies discrimination, which the 14th amendment does not allow.
Romney did his best to appeal to social conservatives in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and elsewhere – and it appears to have worked. His family’s foundation donates to the Mormon Church and to the Massachusetts Family Institute, both of whom actively oppose same-sex marriage.
Yet all of this obscures the fact that while governor, Romney issued at least 189 special-issue one-day marriage licenses. Romney had no legal obligation to issue any of these licenses, but he chose to do so. Of course, his political instincts told him it was the right thing to do given that during the 2002 gubernatorial election, his campaign team distributed pro-gay rights flyers. And, it was Massachusetts. Last year, early in the Iowa caucus campaign, Romney shrewdly rejected an anti-gay marriage pledge because it was “undignified.” And, in 1994, he claimed that he “does not believe in discriminating against people based upon their sexual orientation.”
It really makes the head spin trying to match Romney’s current rhetoric with his past behavior and tastes. The reality is that no matter what Romney says today about gay marriage (or anything much else for that matter) it’s hard for him to take it back.
MARVIN KING received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Texas and is now an Associate Professor of Political Science with a joint appointment in the African American Studies Program at the University of Mississippi. He conducts research into how political institutions affect African American politics. Marvin is available for public speaking engagements and you can follow him on Twitter @kingpolitics