It’s no secret that Mitt Romney has come under fire for flip flopping on a number of issues. His critics say he comes across as a political opportunist that steered to the left for his Republican senatorial and gubernatorial races in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, only to steer right in order to run for the GOP presidential nomination. A perusal of Romney’s various positions and statements over recent years makes one want to say, “Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up?” Romney has also been accused of obfuscating on some issues.
It’s also no secret that Fred Thompson is positioning himself for the same GOP presidential nomination. Thompson certainly has a number of things going for him, but he also has some drawbacks, as I noted in this post. As of late, Thompson has been courting the flip flopper and obfuscator labels with respect to his stand on abortion.
The abortion issue is keenly important to many GOP voters, particularly those that consider themselves social conservatives.
Rudy Giuliani has been up front about his pro-choice stance. But he has argued that where the rubber really meets the road is judicial nominees. He has promised to appoint judges that are strict constructionists rather than courthouse legislators in black robes. A number of social conservatives have said that they can buy that argument. John McCain hasn’t fared as well with social conservatives with respect to his pro-choice stance. He has too much history being adversarial with them on this and other issues.
As the National Review editors point out in this article, Thompson’s stance on abortion “is cloudier than it should be.” They quickly excuse any change in position, noting that millions of Americans (including politicians) have changed their mind one way or the other on abortion over the years. But they argue that Thompson needs to give a clear picture of his thoughts on the issue.
When the LA Times recently revealed that Thompson had done lobbying work for a pro-abortion group 15 years ago, his first move was to deny it. When evidence became overwhelming, Thompson merely suggested that a lawyer can represent a client without espousing the client’s views. Sorry, Fred, but that’s going to be a tough sell for social conservatives. Highly paid lobbyist lawyers have a lot of latitude in whom they accept as clients.
Now people are starting to dig back through Thompson’s history, and it seems quite obvious from the assembled evidence that he was clearly pro-choice a dozen years ago. His senate voting record, however, has him voting “with pro-lifers almost every time.” A couple of weeks ago I heard him say in a radio interview that he was firmly pro-life and that he was opposed to federally funded embryonic stem cell research. However, the interviewer did not ask what Thompson meant by the term “pro-life.” Does he define it the same way as President Bush, or is he more relaxed?
Obfuscating on this issue simply won’t do for many social conservatives. Thompson is going to have to clearly lay it out long before the February primaries if he wants to attract members of this important constituency to his camp. It’s OK for him to say he was once pro-choice but has evolved to become pro-life. But he has to say so. And just as Romney has explained his evolution on the issue, Thompson will have to explain how his ideas on the issue have evolved. People need to hear that story if they are going to believe that he will represent their desires on this matter.
Thompson does these folksy short radio vignettes where he likes to make everything sound very simple. Well, Fred, it’s time to cut with the lawyer-lobbyist-politician speak and talk to people in a simple, straightforward way about this. The issue won’t go away until you do.