I was thirteen when I first encountered Mitt Romney. It was 2004. He was speaking at the Republican National Convention in Manhattan. Unlike the other men who had spoken that evening, he seemed sane. Rational. He was talking about the importance of respecting gays and lesbians even though he supported traditional marriage.
Today, despite his assurances during the Republican primary that he was a "severely conservative governor," I think it's probably safe to assume that 1) few people actually believe that Mitt Romney is severely conservative and 2) that he's not actually severely conservative.
This, after all, is a man who once said, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country"; a man who signed in to law an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts; and a man who pledged to run to the left of Ted Kennedy on issues of LGBT rights.
But, as president, how would he actually govern in terms of LGBT rights? Would we get the socially moderate person Romney used to be, or the severely conservative he has made himself out to be?
Today, he publicly supports an amendment to the Constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman; refuses to say exactly what rights same-sex couples should and should not have; and claims to have fought same-sex marriage "every way I have known how to, and the fight isn’t over."
The tone has decidedly shifted.
Would he be willing to stand up to a socially conservative, radically conservative GOP House? Or would he be a rubber stamper for the right-wing agenda? This is a difficult question to answer, as the Massachusetts legislature was decidedly not socially conservative when Romney was governor. In fact, it was liberal enough that it overrode nearly every single one of his 800 plus vetoes.
In Iowa yesterday, Gov. Terry Branstad roundly endorsed local GOP efforts to remove an Iowan Supreme Court justice who ruled in favor of marriage equality, as well as attempts by the state GOP operatus to amend our constitution to reverse the Iowa Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.
I bring this up, because Gov. Branstad is often thought of and described as a socially moderate Republican. His expertise is on fiscal issues. Before he was elected, he was rejected by Iowa Tea Party groups because he wasn't a "true conservative."
It should. When Romney ran in the Iowa caucuses, he was described by local pundits as a "Branstad-style Republican," after being endorsed by the governor. He was—at that stage—viewed as a moderate.
But today's rank-and-file GOP is so far right that its occasionally moderate leaders lack the backbone to stand up to the unprecedentedly conservative legislative bodies—chief among them the U.S. House of Representatives, home of folks like the highly revered Missouri Rep. Todd Akin. The GOP's continued rightward shift indicates a Romney presidency would reflect his more recent, more conservative views, rather than those of the moderate governor who led Massachusetts a decade ago.
Zach Wahls is a sixth-generation Iowan, author of My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family, Green Bay Packers fan and a commentator on LGBT and youth issues. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.