What would be the worst possible news for Mitt Romney to have to deal with the day after President Obama announced he supports gay marriage? Romney's already had a gay staffer resign because social conservatives were outraged he'd hire an openly gay person. And having a hypothetical family member come out as gay would probably help him seem more compassionate. But one thing that might project an image Romney really wants to avoid -- heartless outmoded anti-gay conservative -- would be a long profile in The Washington Post about how he bullied a gay kid in high school. At the exact moment Romney doesn't want to talk about gay stuff, the Post's Jason Horowitz reports Romney led a gang of boys who singled out a gay kid, held him down while he cried, and cut off the kid's offensively un-hetero hair. No one ever likes a bully, but it's really a bad time to be an anti-gay bully. (Update: Romney apologized Thursday morning for high school pranks that went too far.)
"Aren't there issues of significance you'd like to talk about? The economy, the economy, the economy," Romney asked a Colorado TV reporter Wednesday with faux-niceness as she kept pestering him about gay marriage, immigration and medical marijuana. Hot Air's Allahpundit points out that Romney makes a mistake as the interview ends, saying, "I'm not talking about marriage and marijuana -- those are state issues, right?" -- even though he's pledged to support a Federal Marriage Amendment and said he would defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Hot Air says Democrats can paint Romney as ultra-conservative just by making him talk about gay marriage -- "His rhetoric doesn’t have to be strident or out of the conservative mainstream for this tactic to work; all they’re trying to do is make him look like a guy who’s preoccupied with 'values' issues while swing voters are worried about jobs."
On MSNBC Thursday, Mark Halperin said Obama would get a pass from the press on the issue, because reporters are unified in their support of gay marriage. Though there are stories probing the political calculation of Obama's choice, you can see even the president feels pretty confident about how it turned out. In an interview that aired Thursday morning, Obama was asked about Vice President Joe Biden's appearance on Meet the Press, which forced the president to clarify his position. Obama said, "Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, in my own terms, without there being a lot of notice to everybody? Sure… But all’s well that ends well.”
You can see where elite opinion stands with an essay by Matthew Dowd posted Wednesday night at ABC News. Dowd was the chief strategist of George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign; Bush's advisers pushed for state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage to be on the ballot in several swing states to increase conservative turnout, a tactic for which former Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman has repeatedly publicly apologized. But that's not how Dowd remembers it. His post is titled, "The Facts: Gay Marriage Didn’t Tilt 2004 Election," and he argues that conservative and evangelical turnout was no higher in swing states with gay marriage bans on the ballot than in states without them. But you get the sense that Dowd cares less about whether the gay bans worked than whether he shapes our understanding of why they were up for vote to begin with. "In all that analysis preparing for the campaign, not a single social issue rose to the top five motivators (not abortion, not gay marriage, not a one)," he writes. It was all about national security and the economy, he says, before adding, "And these are the issues the campaign put all their resources behind and I constantly advocated internally as our focus." You get the sense the word "I" is pretty important in that sentence.
But Dowd's description of events is not how anyone who lived in a swing state with a gay marriage vote in 2004 remembers the tone of the election. And that's probably what Obama's reelection campaign is counting on in a new ad that claims Romney is more conservative than even George W. Bush on gay marriage.
Obama's decision is not without costs -- The Boston Globe's Glen Johnson argues Obama's campaign will probably have to write off North Carolina, the state he won by the smallest margin in 2008. North Carolina passed a gay marriage state constitutional amendment Tuesday. On the other hand, in the first 90 minutes after his historic announcement Wednesday, his campaign raised $1 million.