ONE OF THE MOST remarkable stories of the 2008 presidential campaign was the rise and fall of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in his bid for the Republican nomination. Romney carefully crafted a campaign strategy designed to rally the Republican base that had elected George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. He sought to establish himself as the only contender with appeal to fiscal conservatives, “hawks” on defense and foreign policy, and social conservatives, who were generally thought to hold the balance of power in the Republican primaries. At the heart of Romney’s right-flanking maneuver was an acrobatic repositioning away from the self-styled “social moderate” who was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002. Romney morphed from a non-ideological pragmatist into a fire-breathing exponent of “family values” as a presidential candidate.
It was all for naught. Romney’s efforts to win over the religious Right with a strident opposition to GLBT equality backfired. His reversals from previous positions in support of gay rights—captured in many public statements he made as a Massachusetts politician—helped cement the perception that he was a flagrant “flip-flopper” who would say anything to get elected. In their postmortems on the Romney campaign, pundits from across the political spectrum agreed that he failed because he was seen to lack a core personal quality voters hungered for: authenticity. His character had come into question.
Romney’s withdrawal from the race on February 7, 2008 may have lasting significance for the shifting electoral fortunes of the gay and lesbian community.