Romney can’t escape culture war

For the most part, Mitt Romney and his campaign have stayed focused on economic issues. Neither the candidate nor his team have been eager to talk about Romney’s abysmal jobs record, or his ruthless work at his private equity firm, but economic talk has still been up front and center.

It has not always been such. My friend Elon Green has a piece today on Romney’s on-again, off-again tolerance for the LGBT community.

[O]f all the issues on which Romney has taken a stance, few have been subject to more contortions than homosexuality and marriage equality…. Romney’s 1994 senatorial run, for example, he pledged to “make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern.” Eight years later, during his 2002 run for governor, Romney took a similarly progressive position when he proclaimed, “All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of sexual preference.”

What has been largely overlooked is that prior to Romney’s unsuccessful senatorial run, his beliefs about gays were, to put it kindly, not so magnanimous. According to several articles in the Boston Globe in the mid ’90s, just before launching his senate run, Romney told an audience of Mormon Church members that homosexuality was “perverse” and “reprehensible.”

Now, admittedly, it’s hard to know which version of Romney we’re seeing now, and which version we’d see if he became president — the Romney who vowed to be more supportive of gay rights than Ted Kennedy or the Romney who told an audience he considered homosexuality “perverse” and “reprehensible”? The question for voters, I suppose, is their comfort level with the risk.

But let’s also not overlook the larger context: Romney still has culture war baggage, whether he seems focused on the economy or not.

Just four years ago, for example, Romney said he would not consider Muslim Americans for his cabinet. Indeed, he said this more than once, in front of plenty of witnesses.

This year, he’s offered support for “Personhood” amendments, vowed backing for the Defense of Marriage Act, and said he’d strip Planned Parenthood of all its funding.

I’ve heard from a few center-left voters in recent months who’ve suggested a Romney presidency may not be that offensive, since, once in office, he may turn out to govern closer to the way he did in his one term in Massachusetts. Besides, the argument goes, he’ll probably spend most of his time on the economy, not social issues.

It’s worth keeping in mind, then, that Romney has taken some extreme positions while making some fairly specific promises to some very conservative folks, suggesting he’ll be pretty far to the right in every key area of public policy — including the culture war.