GOP Presidential Wannabes Court the Religious Right

Originally posted: August 5, 2005

Greencastle, Ind. – The most interesting piece of political paraphernalia this hot summer season enshrines the smiling visage of Mitt Romney, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, who is beginning to think of himself as America’s first Mormon president. A spin-off of campaign caps and T-shirts, this is a camisole, a sexy, stretchy, snappy little item with Mitt’s handsome face in the middle of a heart just between and slightly beneath, well, the breasts.

A matching thong is available. Customers are warned that it fits snug and sizes run small. The picture of Romney also is smaller.

In winning the governorship of Massachusetts, which has only 14 percent registered Republicans, Romney, necessarily, ran as a moderate. Handsome, wealthy, telegenic, successful in business, he conspicuously veered from conservative GOP orthodoxy especially on reproductive rights. He promised to keep abortion legal. He also said it would be a positive thing for women to have the choice of the morning-after pill.

The timing of the Romney underwear is a little unfortunate because the governor is retrofitting himself for the possibility of a run for president in 2008. He recently wrote an article for The Boston Globe saying he did not believe abortion should be legal and then vetoed a bill allowing the morning-after contraceptive, calling it “an abortion pill.” He also invoked a 1913 law to keep out-of-state same-sex couples from being married in Massachusetts and he favors restoring the death penalty in Massachusetts.

Romney is not the only GOP presidential prospect getting in line with the policy checklist of the religious right. In New York, another blue state, George Pataki announced he would not seek a fourth term, feeding  speculation that he, too, would seek the 2008 GOP nomination.

Pataki is the nation’s longest-serving governor, in part due to his pro-choice politics. He also pushed through the legislature a bill banning discrimination against gays. Recently, however, he announced that he plans to veto a bill making the morning-after pill available without a prescription. He also has pushed to reinstate the death penalty in New York.

Pataki and Romney are by no means the leading candidates for the GOP 2008 nomination, but they are among several involved in résumé adjustment in preparation for the campaign. The Christian right is the dominant force in Republican presidential politics in terms of both money and votes. Its issues agenda: against abortion in all its manifestations including the morning-after pill; for the death penalty but against euthanasia; against homosexuality in all its ramifications especially gay marriage; against expanding stem cell research.

No candidate, save perhaps Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, meets the litmus test on every issue, but Santorum faces a serious re-election contest next year before he can publicly become a presidential candidate.

Majority Leader Bill Frist is not seeking re-election and thus can run full time while the others also work. Frist fell all over himself establishing his Christian right bona fides in the Terri Schiavo case, including pushing through the bill that would give jurisdiction of her fate to the federal courts. He also offered his medical opinion on her condition from viewing an old videotape. Everything he did or said proved unworkable or untrue, but he gets credit for trying.

Last week Frist adjusted himself in the opposite direction, announcing he now would support federal funding for more embryonic stem cell research. This research could help arrest or cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and other degenerative diseases. Support for it crosses party lines. Frist, a doctor, is now in synch with the professional opinion of the vast majority of the medical community.

President Bush added an item to the religious right’s presidential issues agenda when he said he supports the conservative Christian push to have intelligent design get equal standing with evolution in the nation’s schools. Intelligent design is the belief that complex life forms cannot be explained entirely by evolution, thus leading to the inevitability of divine creation.

The coalition of Christian conservatives, including about 250 radio and TV outlets, warmly welcomed the president’s endorsement. Watch to see which of the presidential wannabes join up in the days ahead.

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