Last weekend, Buzzfeed.com got a hold of what appears to be the entire research file on Mitt Romney compiled by John McCain’s staff during the 2008 Republican presidential primary.
It is, as you might imagine, quite enlightening.
In many people’s eyes, the most damning thing about the report is that it shows Romney to be a spineless flip-flopper who sways with whichever political breeze will get him where he wants to be. Not that he’s an open-minded thinker who’s willing to change his mind in the face of new evidence, but that he simply tells people whatever they want to hear.
Now, we can’t take the report at face value of course. It’s a political campaign weapon and its purpose was to find ways to make Romney look as liberal as possible during a Republican primary that catered to conservatives. But the report does gather quite a bit of evidence along the way and it cites a lot of credible sources. Drawing on that report, here in a nutshell is the case for Romney being a liberal, or something close to it.
During his 1994 failed U.S. Senate race against Ted Kennedy, Romney endorsed legalizing the “morning after pill” (RU-486), and supported federal funding of abortion, saying “I think it’s important that people see me not as a pro-life candidate.” He also voiced his support for Roe v. Wade, something he reiterated in 2002. As governor, he vowed to uphold Massachusetts’ abortion laws; he appointed pro-choice judges to state district court; he signed a bill expanding family planning services, including abortion counseling and the morning-after pill; he required Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims; and his now-famous health insurance plan expanded access to abortion.
On Gay Rights
In 1994, he endorsed openly gay Congressman Barney Frank’s Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and he lauded President Bill Clinton’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy as a first step toward having gays and lesbians “able to serve openly and honestly in our nation’s military.” As governor, he appointed two openly gay judges; he supported Vermont-style civil unions; he supported health coverage benefits and hospital visitation rights for gay couples; he publicly opposed the Boy Scouts’ ban on homosexuals in 1994 and again in 2002; and he supported hate crime legislation that included crimes against LGBT people.
On Gun Control
In 1994, Romney backed the Brady bill and assault weapons ban, saying “I don’t line up with the NRA.” As governor, he quadrupled gun licensing fees and signed into law a permanent state-level ban on assault weapons.
Most famously, in 2006, he supported and signed into law a comprehensive healthcare reform package for Massachusetts. The bill featured an individual mandate that all state residents be insured by mid-2007. The Affordable Care Act promoted and signed by President Barack Obama is, to some extent, based on the Romney bill.
As governor, Romney increased state spending and revenues. In 2003, he refused to endorse the Bush tax cuts.
Romney was friendly with Democrats and has continually worked with them and even supported them. In 1995, he promoted President Clinton’s AmeriCorps program, which was then under assault from congressional Republicans. He also made political contributions to Democratic political candidates, and in 2003 he endorsed Salt Lake City liberal Democratic mayor Rocky Anderson’s reelection campaign, even appearing in one of his TV ads. On the flip side, Romney has also been willing to lock horns with powerful conservative Republicans. In 1994, he bucked Newt Gingrich by opposing the conservative Contract with America.
The report concludes by questioning whether Romney is really a Republican, calling him a progressive who supports abortion rights, universal healthcare, and gay rights. It also notes that Romney was not a Republican until he ran for the Senate in 1994. He was an independent before that, and during the 1992 presidential campaign, he voted in the Democratic primary.
All of this reinforces many people’s suspicion that Romney stands for little other than his own opportunism, though sadly, he is hardly alone among among politicians on this count. However, the report also gives us some insight into what a Romney presidential administration might be like. And I for one think it would actually look quite a bit like the Obama or Clinton presidency in some ways.
Many liberals have long bemoaned Clinton and Obama’s readiness to compromise with the opposition. It seems likely that Romney would also be quite willing to work with the opposition. However, the key factor will be this: if Romney wins the presidency, will Democrats be able to maintain control of the Senate?
Our federal system is designed to work on compromise. If the Dems hold even one house in Congress, Romney will probably be eager to work with them; his legislative agenda would probably be a mix of liberal and conservative ideologies. However, if Romney were to enter the White House with Republican majorities in both houses, it could lead to a flurry of conservative laws.
But then again, we might well say the same about Clinton and Obama, who only signed signature liberal legislation when Democrats held both houses, and seemed eager to pass compromised legislation when Republicans held one or both houses.
Thus, Mitt Romney seems to me to be a center-right pragmatist at heart, cut from the same political cloth as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. In other words, I think conservatives’ fears about Romney are actually more realistic than liberals’. Conservatives are worried he’s not really a conservative. And guess what?
Akim Reinhardt blogs regularly at The Public Professor.