The decisions on the marriage pledge by Romney and Bachmann were easy because they know their respective constituencies, their strategies and the political imperatives that go with them. Pawlenty’s apparent hesitation underscores the awkward position he’s in and the risks to his candidacy whether he signs or doesn’t.
Bachmann intends to nail down social conservatives and tea party activists and turn them into a force that can propel her to victory in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Success there could enhance her chances of competing elsewhere. Signing the detailed though controversial pledge was an easy decision as a result.
The calculus for Romney was the opposite, but not necessarily more difficult. Neither winning Iowa nor becoming the favored candidate of social and religious conservatives is part of his strategy for capturing the nomination or the presidency. He wants support from those values voters, but, as with others who have won the GOP nomination, he is not willing to pay any price to get it.
Romney has signed other pledges — one not to raise taxes and another to put a cap on spending and support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Romney is all about the economy. But on social issues, he is not willing to lurch too far to the right. He is focused on preserving as much space as possible in which to compete for swing voters in a general election.
Asked about Romney’s position on the pledge, spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom e-mailed back this response: “Mitt Romney strongly supports traditional marriage but he felt this pledge contained references and provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign.”
Romney’s campaign did not identify the provisions or the footnotes Fehrnstrom cited, but others have raised a number of questions about the document. One provision, which was later dropped, said that, in some respects, black children born into slavery were better off than those born today. Another asked candidates to reject sharia law. Another called for recognition that “robust childbearing and reproduction” is good for the nation.
Family Leader officials are now trying to rebut criticism of their pledge.
That Pawlenty’s campaign is struggling is borne out by recent polls in Iowa (where he is in single digits), by second-quarter fundraising numbers (he raised less than a quarter of Romney’s total) and by the negative narrative that has now attached itself to the former Minnesota governor’s candidacy.