Mitt Romney and the problem of porn

by nkronos on February 6, 2011

Karl Rove’s most famous campaign strategy was to turn his opponent’s greatest perceived strength against him: John Kerry had won three Purple Hearts in Vietnam while George W. Bush served spottily in the Texas National Guard. Aside from the charges of flip-flopping, however, the most effective damage to Kerry came–whether instigated by Rove or not–from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who undermined Kerry’s war record. Similarly in 2000 when Al Gore brought greater experience and apparent intellectual heft to the race, these advantages were caricatured as robot-like aloofness and egomaniacal braggadocio.

A variation of this tactic that can be even deadlier is what one might call reverse triangulation, in which the strategy is to drive a wedge between the candidate and his base by portraying the candidate as a creature of the most extreme positions. A candidate’s religion is the best target for such thrusts because virtually every faith has something that to other faiths seems strange. The candidate thus caught faces a pincer movement.

A perfect example is Barack Obama and Rev. Wright in 2008. As Wright’s views became known, Obama faced losing white support. To repudiate Wright, however, risked losing black support.

Mitt Romney likewise faced the wedge of his Mormon faith in 2008. Not only did pundits wonder about its effect in a general election, but the widespread perception was conservative Christians forming the base of the GOP would never allow a Mormon to be nominated. Despite Mormons often holding the most conservative of views and locking arms with Evangelical Christians on many social issues, theologically Protestants and Mormons believe vastly different things.

Mike Huckabee–presumptive favorite of Evangelical Christians–was happy to outline those differences for the inattentive last time around. This week the Economist highlights the other end of the pincer Romney may face as it describes the Marriott chain’s recent announcement that it will “cease selling adult content in its newer hotels.” (One wonders about older hotels and just what all the euphemism “adult content” covers.)

As the Economist says, Romney was stung in 2008 when called a “major pornographer,” partly because of his association with Marriott. Does this move help? Does it only call attention to the problem in a negative way (i.e., “I was for pornography before I was against it”), as, like fellow Bay Stater Romney has been shod with flip-flops. Worse in terms of being in a vise, will the issue cause some voters to fear Romney’s executive competence plays too much second fiddle to his religious convictions? “Adult content” is not, for most people, synonymous with pornography: one is what I read, the other is what you read.

Meanwhile, today Rasmussen released a poll showing Romney up by an insignificant 2 in a potential match with President Obama, whereas Huckabee and Obama are tied.

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