Monday, June 04, 2012

Can Mitt Romney distance himself from social conservatism?

Who? The Family Research Council? Never heard of you.

Here's one thing about politics that is both obvious and, in some ways, confusing. It is that campaign spokespeople say things as if they are fact when they are really things they hope are or will become true.

Recently, Romney campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom dismissed the idea that social issues will play a significant role in the presidential campaign. For example, issues particularly important to women like reproductive rights and access to contraception, he argues, are like "shiny objects" that President Obama will insist on promoting, but that won't matter. And then there's immigration and marriage equality. This election, Fernstrohm states, is going to be about the economy. "This is not a social issue election," he says. These other issues are merely a distraction.

Of course, it's hard to argue that the economy will be the central issue in the campaign considering that things are still limping along. But when Fernstrohm states unequivocally that social issues will not drive significant vote, he is offering a hope rather than a fact.

In other words, it would be better for Mitt Romney if voters, swing voter in particular, forgot that business conservatism comes with a healthy dose of social conservatism these days. Even for voters who might be fooled by the "Romney as economic savior" narrative, there may be other parts of his platform they find more problematic, which could impact their support.

Yes, campaigns always say things they hope to be true or need to be true as if they really are true. That's what we call spin.

We knew Romney would try to move away from social conservatism as quickly as he could upon winning the nomination, and so it begins. It remains to be seen if swing voters will ignore their own concerns on social issues, as Fernstrohm hopes.

But it will also be interesting to see if Romney's social conservative supporters agree that these issues are really just shiny objects. If they don't have the discipline to bracket these hot button concerns for the duration, they will make a liar out of the Romney campaign, as if they need the help.

I don't think the Obama campaign has any intention of letting social issues be ignored. I don't think they have any intention of missing an opportunity to appeal to any voting constituency concerned about non-economic issues.

Final point is that elections are frequently decided by a small amount of vote that can be energized by apparently secondary issues. To admit that the economy will be the central theme of the election is not to deny that other issues could be decisive.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home