Mitt Romney’s refusal to sign the “Pro-Life Presidential Leadership Pledge” cooked up by the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List looks like smart politics to me. The pledge is nowhere near as straightforward as the the quadrennial Republican Party platform’s abortion plank, which for a generation has called for a constitutional ban. Rather, it’s a carefully calibrated political document that tightens the screws on presidential appointments and the use of public funds, and promotes a new “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” I’d say it was designed to be acceptable to any GOP candidate capable of winning the nomination, while serving as an effective wedge in the general election.
By choosing to discern problems with the pledge while insisting on his pro-life cred, Romney has managed to demonstrate his independence from his party’s interest groups, cuddle up to GOP moderates, and differentiate himself from (most of) the rest of the presidential field. In contrast to 2008, he actually looks like a guy with backbone. And in a year when the supreme Republican object is to defeat the incumbent–when Republican Tea Partiers say they’re more likely to vote Republican than non-Tea Party Republicans–Romney’s put the wind at his back. No wonder his opponents are shocked and dismayed.
Two years ago, John Green and I wrote that in his last run for the nomination, Romney
made a strategic error in aggressively seeking evangelical support by altering his social issue positions. Doing so likely weakened his appeal to Republican voters outside the social conservative fold, and may even have lost him ground among evangelical voters, not only by playing into their anti-Mormon views but also by underscoring the importance of religious criteria in choosing a president.
At the Faith and Freedom meeting earlier this month, Romney merely informed the evangelical audience that “we’re united tonight on a lotta things.” I’d say he’s come to the same conclusion we did.