The Three Possible Romneys

Should prolife voters support Mitt Romney? By this I first mean “in the primaries” of course, but beyond that I mean to ask “ever.” Conversely, supporters of legal abortion should be equally repulsed by the former Massachusetts governor—as should anyone who takes the abortion issue seriously, or who wishes for a president possessed of a moral center. Let me explain.

Mitt Romney grew up in a church that opposes most abortions. He didn’t leave that faith—in fact, he served as a missionary and even became a bishop. He has throughout his career given an admirable portion of his income to Mormon charities, and become an important figure in his church. And good for him! Whatever outsiders might think of their theology, Mormons have proved among America’s hardest-working, most faithful citizens.

But Mitt Romney had a problem: He wanted to run for U.S. Senate, and he lived in Massachusetts. He rightly saw in his church’s stand on the sanctity of life a brick wall that would keep him from winning. So he found a way around it. He looked to models like Edward Kennedy, Mario Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and declared that he was “personally opposed” to abortion, but would not seek to impose his private views on others. This stance, seen most among Democrats, was plausible to many in the 80s, who didn’t stop to think how they’d like a candidate who was only “personally” opposed to segregation or wife-beating.

Somehow, it became respectable to treat one’s proclaimed belief that unborn children are human beings  as a mere sectarian quirk—akin to the kosher laws requiring two sets of dishes, or the Mormon aversion to Pepsi. Prof. Hadley Arkes of Amherst College does a better job than I can of ripping away this fig leaf, noting that the abolitionists, the Rev. Martin Luther King, and the pro-life movement all share  a commitment to natural law—the insistence that legislation which violates human rights is invalid and must be repealed. No judicial precedent, social prejudice, or crass electoral calculus must blur the line in the human heart between right and wrong. To put things more simply, as Solzshenitsyn begged his readers: “Live not by lies.”

Mitt Romney disagreed. He thought whatever tweaks he could make to the federal budget, whatever pro-business legislation he could sponsor, were important enough to set aside the lives of millions of unborn Americans. He ran against Edward Kennedy in 1994 and lost.

In 2002, Romney ran again in Massachusetts, this time as the prochoice candidate for governor, and won. In office, he made no effort even to nip at the edges of Roe v. Wade—which made U.S. abortion laws the laxest in the world. After first defending the rights of religious hospitals to refuse, he flip-flopped and forced Catholic facilities to prescribe abortificient drugs—an eerie precedent to the Obama administration’s current war against the Church. Taking his opportunism to an almost artistic height, Romney went on to assure pro-choicers that he would be their “voice” in Republican politics.

After four years as governor, Romney’s ambition rose to the national stage, and he faced a very different obstacle: the solid, pro-life consensus that it took social conservatives almost 30 years to forge among Republicans. It was time to zig instead of zag. So Romney remembered that he’d always believed in protecting unborn children, and reinvented himself a second time as a prolifer. He has banged that drum loud enough for the past six years or so that even Ann Coulter believes him. Who knows? He may actually mean it. He seems sincere now—but then, he seemed sincere before. Which position is really his or ever was? There is literally no way to tell.

I have narrowed this issue down, and identified Three Possible Romneys. It is plain that just one of the following men really exists, and is running for president:

a) The Empty Vessel: This Mitt Romney was sincere at every step in his political career. He actually changed his mind about the proper legal status of unborn children, and the rights of women, twice in his adult life—at each point when doing so proved eerily convenient. However, he was not on any of these occasions deceiving anyone, even himself. His moral compass really is that… pliable, like one of Salvador Dali’s melting watches.

b) The Manchurian Candidate: This second possible Romney has always had a firm, fixed moral conviction on this issue, and to advance it he was willing to deceive people at one moment in his career—we just can’t be sure which moment. Prolifers can hope that he was lying to Massachusetts voters, while prochoicers can hope he is lying now.

c) The Mercenary: This last Mitt Romney really doesn’t care about unborn children or women’s autonomy one way or the other. He greets it with a shrug, like the contractor who paints your house any color you like, or the lawyer who’ll represent any client with a suitcase full of cash.

Of these three possible Romneys, I’m not sure which is the creepiest. I don’t want any of these guys to be president, and if any of them gets the nomination, I and thousands of other prolife voters will sit this election out—not just because of what Romney’s shifty history will mean for abortion politics, but for what it says about his character. Which ever of these characters Romney is, I don’t want his finger on the button.

In rejecting a party nominee, we follow a historic precedent: Mitt Romney’s father, Michigan Governor George Romney, refused to back Barry Goldwater when he won the nomination in 1964. He didn’t trust Barry, and we can’t trust Mitt. As president, who knows how he would act when it came time to choose Supreme Court nominees, and he faced a resistant Senate, or some other obstacle to his ambition? With Romney’s track record of changing his spots, there’s no telling what shade he’ll take on.

Prochoice voters should be equally repulsed by Romney’s casual game of moral badminton with women’s choices (and unborn lives) as the shuttlecock. This isn’t a garden party, or a shoot for the J.Crew catalog. The least important thing at stake is one man’s ambition. But that’s the only consistent value Mitt Romney has always served.

On one thing prochoice and prolife Americans can agree: The issue matters. Either abortion is a fundamental human right which every woman deserves for the sake of her liberty and autonomy, or it’s a crime against unborn children. The one thing it’s not is a pair of Cole-Haan slippers, which a candidate can slide on or off, depending on the weather.

A candidate who’d do that is no one to lead a party to victory, especially against a president whose base is fervently committed, whose popularity (once low) is rising as the economy recovers, who has at his disposal the sympathy of most media, and all the resources of a mighty party machine. Against that kind of dogged opponent Republicans would be fools to field the candidate who is everyone’s second choice, whose convictions are uncertain and untrustworthy, whose only qualification for being president is a single term as governor—an office Mitt Romney won by selling his conscience. Or renting it. Or maybe by never having one. There is simply no way to tell.


Jason Jones was the executive producer of Bella (2006). He is founder and president of H.E.R.O. (Human-rights Education and Relief Organization). He has has been at the forefront of the campaign to provide water in Darfur, to promote a moratorium on stoning in Iran, and to educate the upcoming generation on how to promote human dignity and create a culture of life. Learn more about his pro-life initiatives at

  • L E Gabriel Smith

    This is a good article. 
    The logic goes bad with the ‘sit this one out’ if Romney is nominated. 
    We must vote for a ‘maybe pro-life’ Romney over a clearly pro-choice Obama. 
    Rather than attacking Romney, tell me which of the others I should support. 

  • Well-written, I’ll give you that. But you can do this with just about any politician who gets to the national stage. They have all changed positions on something. I think Ann Coulter is right when she states that pro-lifers should be happy when someone changes their position on abortion like Mitt has done.

  • Kasey

    There are a lot of false assumptions being made in this article.  The first is that Romney has been going back and forth on this issue his whole life.  There’s absolutely no evidence of this.  Yes, he was pro-choice when he first came onto the political stage.  So was Reagan.  Romney becomes governor of Massachusetts, examined his conscience when the first bill regarding life is before him, and claims that he couldn’t be personally pro-life and publicly pro-choice.

    That’s what we know.  He flipped.  He did not flip-flop.  It’s absurd to claim Romney is playing a “casual game of moral badminton.”  That’s just one of many absurdities you argue in this piece.

    Next, to claim that you will sit this election out if Romney is the nominee is irrational grandstanding.  I need not list the anti-Christian, anti-life policies of our current president.  And yet, you claim you will sit this election out because you think there might be an off-chance that Romney isn’t sincere in his pro-life conversion?  That’s ridiculous.

    Next, do you not believe a man can examine his conscience?  Can a man not develop intellectually, or spiritually?  Can a man not change his point of view?  

    And finally: why can’t pro-lifers welcome people who become pro-life?  We distrust, we malign, we threaten to sit elections out.  A former pro-choice politician has no friends.  He loses the trust of the pro-choicers, and he’s never welcomed to our side with Christian charity.  

    We should not be so quick to judge Romney’s intentions.  We have no evidence that his public stance on life is anything other than sincere.

  • Rosemary Bogdan

    “if any of them gets the nomination, I and thousands of other prolife voters will sit this election out—”I totally agree with this assessment of Romney but I pray that that the above quote will turn out not to be true.  What would be gained by sitting out the election?  We would have the president who voted for infanticide.  Surely, even in the worst case scenario, Romney would be so much better.  (But I’m supporting Santorum in the primary)

  • George

    If Romney wins the nomination he won’t win my support. Apart from my moral objections, I’d much rather spend the next four years fighting someone who is my obvious enemy than have to constantly justify my work to undermine a fellow “Republican.” If Romney is elected we risk a backlash that could lose us the House, undermine progress in the Senate and jeopardize a number of statehouses. If we have 4 more years of Obama, America will only be steeled in their resolve to support increasingly conservative leadership nation-wide. So Santorum!

  • Carl

    Four side of Romney—closet Catholic?

    While watching Romney at the 20th debate last night I couldn’t help but notice how Romney was stealing Santorum’s Catholic thunder!
    I have to think that anyone watching who was not a where of Romney’s Mormon faith would have thought he was Catholic the way he unapologetically named and defended the Catholic Church’s positions.

    I’ve never met a Mormon speak so well of Catholics—LOL. 

  • Excellent article, Jason. Just to reinforce your argument, check this out:

  • flexo3000

    There is a fundamental error in this analysis.  And that is to equate anti-abortion with being pro-life.
    They are NOT the same thing.  One can be against abortion without being pro-life. 

    Now, Romney might — might — have been anti-abortion before, that is, he might have been merely against abortion for whatever reason, it’s unseemly, LDS is against it, or no particular reason at all.  You do not need to believe in the sanctity of human life, or even that the unborn are in fact human life, to be against abortion or otherwise think it wrong.  After all, Margaret Sanger voiced some opposition to white women having abortions, but no one would ever accuse her of being “pro-life.”  And then there are plenty of people much closer to us who are against abortion, but they are perfectly fine with and even advocate for embryonic/fetal research and freezing embryos, etc., all of which clearly violate the fundamental dignity of human life (this would include fellow Mormon Orrin Hatch, who famously has said with contempt that “human life begins in the womb, not a petri dish,” such that, until a living human embryo is implanted in the womb, it is not human life, which is fine as an anti-abortion sentiment, but is NOT pro-life no matter how much Hatch insists that he is).

    Romney might have been anti-abortion before.   But no one who was genuinely pro-life — who believed in the fundamental dignity of the human person at all stage of life — could ever then embrace “abortion rights,” especially enthusiastically so.   No one who was genuinely pro-life could do so even as a deceitful and dishonest ploy to get votes.

    The unborn are not bargaining chips or debate points, as anyone who was ever pro-life knows, and such a pro-lifer would never, ever treat them as such.

    No.  Mitt Romney is NOT pro-life.  He has never been pro-life.  Even now, despite his protestations, he might — and again I repeat, might — be against abortion for whatever reason (e.g. politics), but he is not affirmatively for the unborn, he is not an advocate for the unborn, he is not an enthusiastic defender of the unborn. 

    He and his supporters can enthusiastically insist that he is “pro-life,” but try to find where Romney ever gives a testimony from the depths of his heart about life in the womb.  Try to find some pro-life statements when he wasn’t running for political office.  Try to find a statement from Romney anywhere where he expresses regret or otherwise repents for his “pro-choice” contributions to the horrific KILLING of millions of innocent human lives.  No, he is not a pro-lifer.  He is not one of us.

    You know a pro-lifer when you hear one, and Romney is not it.  All he is is “I’m pro-life now.   Really.  Really I am.  Trust me.”  That’s it.

    • flexo3000

      Why does it matter if Romney is merely nominally anti-abortion as opposed to being truly pro-life?  Because one who is merely anti-abortion will NOT go to the mat or otherwise put up a fight for Supreme Court nominees to overrule Roe v. Wade.

      When we get to the point where a nomination might tip the balance toward overruling Roe, IT WILL BE WAR.  The pro-abortion forces will go nuclear.

      Does anyone really believe that Romney wants that fight?  Or will he put up some moderate, some squish, with a wink and a nod to the left, and then have his advisor John Sununu come out and tell everyone how the pick is a “home-run” and demand that the pro-life community support the nominee?

  • Beverly Gould

    I believe that Santorum’s bipartisan efforts should be applauded rather than degraded.  Bipartisanship is something that we need desperately and we need a team player –  the American Team.  Why is it assumed that there is any other team? Obama’s support is from the good old boys and colleges.  Romney’s support is  from banks and good old boys.  Santorum is supported by the grassroots conservatives.

  • Mat

    This anti-Romney article fails to consider what the re-election of Barak Obama means versus having Romney as President. It is a pretty cynical portrayal of Romney, and smacks more of anti-Romney prejudice than a desire to see Obama defeated because of his radical and pervasive abortion rights views. See the link below for a more balanced review of Romney’s role in the Massachusetts health care law.

  • MarkRutledge

    Sit the election out?  God did not make man perfect, so any political system devised and conducted by fallible men will be imperfect.  If the choice comes down to an imperfect good versus evil, I will choose to fight evil any day of the week (and twice on Tuesdays – the Chicago way!) rather than sit out the fight.

  • FilmDoctor

    Romney has to maybe pick a Santorum or Bachmann to get evangelical votes. That said, of the major candidates in the race, he’s nearer to Obama than he is to a real conservative. Santorum is the most conservative followed by Gingrich then Romney. Ron Paul is just too bizarre and untrustworthy.

  • Pingback: The Fourth Possible Romney — Crisis Magazine()

  • Pingback: The Fourth Possible Romney — Crisis Magazine()

  • Newyorkcatholic

    Mitt Romney is on a mission to decentralize power out of Washington and back into the states. He will succeed, and the “culture war” will then be fought between “red” christianized constitutionalist states and “blue” secularist ones.  You will have about 25 states that embrace traditional christian/catholic values and operate governments in line with the U.S. Constitution. You will have about 10 to 12 uber liberal states, and the rest will be in a gridlock between left and right.

    For sure, Washington will be neutered of its coercion power. That’s what Romney is going to do if elected.