The October 1 issue of the New York Times carried an important piece by Michael Shear and Ashley Parker stating that the Romney camp was going to stop running a campaign focused solely on the economy:
Instead, Romney intends to hit the White House with a series of arguments—on energy, health care, taxes, spending and a more direct attack on Obama’s foreign policy record—in an effort to draw sharper distinctions between the candidates and to give voters a choice about who can best change Washington.
Notably absent from this list was any mention of abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, affirmative action, or immigration—issues of vital importance for millions of voters. Indeed, many voters support the Republican Party in presidential elections on the basis of those issues, in spite of skepticism about the hosannas to the free market that largely characterize Republican campaigns. A Gallup poll in early October showed that nine percent of voters will not support a candidate who is not pro-life, and that no other issue was more important as a threshold issue than abortion. Simply put, the Republican Party could not win any national election without the support of pro-life voters. And there were signs in October that the Romney campaign’s silence on social and cultural issues was costing Romney votes. A Rasmussen poll from mid-October showed that Romney enjoyed the support of 58 percent of white voters nationally, but that he was drawing the support of only 52 percent of white voters in Ohio, a state most observers believe Romney must win in order to gain the White House. The likely reason for Romney’s relatively poor showing among Ohio’s white voters is that many of them are susceptible to appeals to economic patriotism of the type found in many of the Obama ads that have aired in Ohio, and that Romney has failed to appeal to such voters on the basis of social and cultural issues, even though such issues have long won Republicans votes among working-class whites.
Romney’s retreat on social and cultural issues began in October, in newspaper interviews in key states. On October 1, Romney told the Denver Post that he would not challenge the Obama administration’s amnesty to illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, an amnesty imposed by administrative fiat and in defiance of Congress, which has refused requests from both George W. Bush and Barack Obama to grant an amnesty to illegal immigrants:
The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I’m not going to take something that they’ve purchased. . . . Before those visas have expired we will have the full immigration reform plan that I’ve proposed.
And on October 9, Romney told the Des Moines Register that “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
Romney’s retreat continued during the second presidential debate. When Obama claimed that “Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making” and boasted that “I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured,” Romney refused to criticize the HHS contraceptive mandate (unlike his running mate Paul Ryan, who attacked the mandate in the vice-presidential debate). Instead, Romney said that “I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they should have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.” When asked about immigration, Romney distanced himself from aspects of the Arizona immigration law that was struck down by the Supreme Court this summer and said that “we should give . . . green cards . . . to people who graduate with skills that we need, people around the world with accredited degrees in . . . science and math,” a plan that would serve to depress wages in technical fields and discourage Americans from pursuing those fields. When asked about gun control, Romney emphasized that he had signed “an assault-weapon ban” as governor of Massachusetts. Romney also continued the complete Republican silence an affirmative action. In short, even though a Public Religion Research Institute poll published in mid-October showed that 80 percent of Romney supporters identified themselves as white Christians, Romney was reluctant to emphasize issues appealing either to whites or to Christians.
Romney’s silence on social and cultural issues does not mean that they have lost their importance. Indeed, if Romney has won (this issue went to press on October 31), it will have been because of those issues, for the simple reason that no Republican can win a national election without the support of social and cultural conservatives. And the sheer awfulness of the Obama administration ensures that Romney will enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of such conservatives, despite Romney’s palpable timidity in addressing social and cultural issues. In the same debate in which Romney failed to criticize the HHS mandate, Obama went out of his way to mention Planned Parenthood five times and to pledge taxpayer support for that organization, even though none of the questions dealt with Planned Parenthood. Obama boasted that he had bestowed an administrative amnesty on illegal immigrants who came here as children and attacked Romney for supporting measures, such as employer verification requirements, designed to encourage illegal immigrants to return home, apparently because Obama believes that once someone crosses the border, he has an inalienable right to stay. But the sad reality is that even if Romney has won and will reverse some of Obama’s more radical measures, the long leftward drift of American politics is likely to continue. The debate over the future cannot be won by those who choose to remain mute.