Watching the GOP lately, I am reminded of an ominous prediction Gerald Ford made almost nine years before he passed away. The former Republican president, who was unabashedly pro-abortion rights, said that if the party kept going down the ultra-conservative line on issues like abortion, it would not be able to elect another Republican president.
"The American people are basically middle-of-the-road moderates," he told The New York Times.
Here in 2012, Ford's words are coming back to haunt Mitt Romney. Although this is supposed to be a "jobs" election, the GOP has a side agenda that has nothing to do with the economy: Transforming modern-day American society into the 1950's TV show Mad Men.
People-pleasing Romney already has to convince American voters that while he's not worried about the 47 percent, his tax-cuts-for-the-rich economic plan will somehow improve all of America. But the GOP is also asking Romney to win a culture war, and they've armed poor Mitt with a water gun.
Take abortion, for example. Once upon a time, Romney was a politically shrewd, pro-abortion-rights Republican who strongly endorsed upholding Roe v. Wade. But to become the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Romney has had to exert Olympian effort to prove how much he loves fertilized eggs — and the anti-abortion-rights shouting on the Right hasn't made his task any easier.
We have Paul Ryan (I'll give fertilized eggs the legal and constitutional privileges of personhood!), Rick Santorum (I'll throw abortion doctors in jail!) and Todd Akin (I am granting women magical powers to make sure their eggs are only fertilized during consensual sex!). And of course, there is the GOP platform, which wants to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Is it any wonder Romney is confused?
Aside from the GOP's apparent lack of cohesion on the issue, the party's crackdown on contraception also has no place in a jobs election. But to keep up with the social conservatives in his party, Romney loudly opposes requiring employers to cover contraception, and advocates for stripping federal and some state funds from Planned Parenthood.
In other words, Romney is trying to convince American women that reproductive autonomy is a privilege, not a right.
Is this a good way to get American women — 99 percent of whom use contraception during their reproductive years — fired up about the Romney-Ryan health care plan? Given that a recent CNN poll found that Obama is leading among women voters by 12 percentage points, the answer appears to be no.
Gay marriage is the other issue where the GOP is going above and beyond to support a social agenda that hurts Romney's electability. A Gallup poll this year found that at least half of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage — a position that President Obama has also taken.
So now, Romney is standing with the fast-depleting 48 percent on the other side of the fence. And sure, some of those Americans undoubtedly support the GOP's idea that gay marriage shouldn't be legal, but same-sex couples should get "respect and dignity." But they aren't the ones Romney is standing with. Instead he supports anti-gay-rights activists like Sharon Kass, who sends reporters (like me) lengthy emails with provocative statements like: "Being black or female is morally neutral. Having the homosexual disorder is not... while some heterosexual parents have psychological disorders of some type, all homosexual parents have a psychological disorder."
It's hard to expect more from Romney than for him to affirm that gay marriage should be left up to the states, and then dropping it. But Romney is actually making it a central campaign issue, tacitly supporting people like Kass and alienating half of America by being on the wrong side of history.
If Romney were running solely on the jobs platform, as he likes to claim he is, we would be in a different election: A recent Rasmussen poll found that 54 percent of Americans trust Romney more on the economy — and that poll was conducted almost a week after Mother Jones published the 47 percent video. And in Wednesday night's debate, Romney made Obama's grasp on economic issues look tenuous, at best (even though Romney was also making up facts.)
But at the end of the day, it's unlikely America will put up with the fringe social values the GOP has loaded on its presidential candidate's back. And whether or not Romney personally supports these deeply conservative positions is almost beside the point — his knees are shaking and his legs are crumpling to the floor. Just as Ford predicted they would.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Pope Francis' American problem
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- A brief history of the Christmas present
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
Subscribe to the Week