A number of Mitt Romney’s supporters have pulled out a 1994 campaign flier and argued that it shows that he has always been a conservative. First of all, one might wonder why a conservative in 1994 would have opposed the Contract with America and called it "partisan".. That wasn’t my reading of it.
I was struck by how much he has moved around on a number of these issues. The question shouldn’t be whether or not he was a real conservative. Instead it should be, what kinds of principles, if any, he has, and how they will relate to how he would govern if he were to become president. So let’s look at this with that in mind.
First of all, we need to realize what this is. It is a political communication. He tried to differentiate himself from Kennedy on some things and blend the differences on others. So, as a political communication, he is saying that the only thing that he agrees with Ted Kennedy on is abortion and gay rights. And on abortion he argued that he was more trustworthy to pro-choicers than Ted Kennedy because Ted Kennedy had flip-flopped(!!!). And on gay rights, he argued that he would be better for gay rights than Ted Kennedy.
The second point to make is that Romney’s image has several problems. The first one is that he’s a simple "flip-flopper". But the second is that he’s a sleazy panderer. The car salesman thing. That he will tell you whatever you need to hear for you to support him. That he has no principles. That’s what really struck me with this.
So, to illustrate, let’s do a little exercise. Let’s take a couple of these issues and see where Romney has gone with these since 1994
First, abortion. Romney’s story is that he changed his position over the stem-cell fight in 2004. But it is worth pointing out that Romney was also sounding pro-life in 2001 when he was considering running for office in Utah. His problem isn’t that he converted. It is that he converted and reconverted and reconverted and reconverted. All occurring while he was running for office and well into middle age and parenthood.
Or, look at his position on campaign finance reform, under the heading of "Congressional Reform." In this 1994 flier, he says that he opposed Taxpayer Financed Campaigns. But in 2002, he supported partial public funding of campaigns, even supporting taxing private contributions to pay for public funding. Now, presumably, he’s against it. So this is his third position on campaign finance reform.
Or, look at this positions on health care. He did not support either a "government takeover of health care" or "requir[ing] employer mandates". But he did sign a health care plan, with the same Ted Kennedy that he is differentiating himself from in this flier, that included employer and individual mandates. (Indeed, it looks like Barack Obama’s health care plan is, in some sense, to the right of Romney’s. Ezra Klein points out that Obama’s plan does not mandate that people purchase health care, whereas Romney’s creates criminal sanctions if you do not)
Tables are often clarifying:
|Romney in 1994||Romney in-between||Romney Today|
|Abortion||Pro-choice||Pro-life, then pro-choice||Pro-life|
|Public funding of campaigns||Against||For||Against|