May 11, 2012

Election 2012: Romney the Bully? Gay Marriage and the Election

After the American Century

The Gay Marriage issue has turned into the worst sort of public relations for Romney, who now comes across in his youth as a rich kid, who was an insensitive, intolerant Mormon bully. That was an unexpected bonus for the Democrats. How did this happen?

When President Obama announced yesterday that he supported gay marriage, he did not do so because there was pressure on him to do so. Nor did he say this because Joe Biden "inadvertently" said he supported gay marriage last week. Anyone who believes that is naive. Biden and then other prominent Democrats came out in favor of gay marriage as trial balloons, to see how the public would react. 

On an emotional issue of this kind, Obama does not just casually make a statement. We can be sure that his staff consulted carefully on this issue and laid out a strategy to make the most of it. The goal here is not to win the gay vote, which is likely Democratic anyway. The goal is to force Romney to make a hard choice. Either he can come out against gay marriage and alienate moderates or he can alienate the Republican right, which already distrusts him, by remaining silent on the issue or saying that gay marriage ought to be allowed. Romney wants desperately to move to the center and look moderate, in order to win over the Independent and moderate voters. Obama is forcing Romney to make a hard choice. He cannot afford to create a rift with the Republican right, but he also cannot afford to embrace them too closely if he wants to become president. 

What is fascinating in this case is not the specific issue but the way that the Democrats are using what has been a Republican issue and making it their own.Obama and his advisers evidently have decided that bringing up such issues can exacerbate the divisions in the Republican Party. At the same time, they surely have calculated the potential effect on voting in swing states before going ahead with this plan. Put another way, this announcement makes Obama stronger in New York and California, which he would win anyway, and weaker in Alabama and Mississippi, which he has little chance of winning. The key question is whether this strategy will help him to win the swing states, especially Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. 

Romney when in High School

Obama got an unexpected bonus from this strategy, when it came out that Romney, when in high school, was one of a group of bullies who persecuted one of their fellow students, This was in Michigan, and he was the son of the Governor, attending a private school. The student he attacked had long hair and was gay, though apparently not yet "out of the closet" at the time. Romney and his buddies chased him, caught him, held him down, and clipped his hair off. Apparently this bullying was directed more at the long hair and the presumably left-leaning principles that tended to go with it. This act reveals an intolerant, vigilante side of Romney that moderates will find unpalatable. Ganging up on people and persecuting them because they are different suggests an arrogance and insensitivity unacceptable to much of the public, though it could help Romney hang on to the KKK vote.