COMMENTARY | Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, did a complete 180-degree about-face on the issue of same-sex marriage Friday. In an op-ed written for the Columbus Dispatch , he said that he now believed on a personal level that the “government should not deny” couples willing to make a lifetime commitment the “opportunity to get married.” And there it was: why Portman wasn’t chosen to be Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate.
The political bombshell came with the admission that his son, Will, was gay and that he, Portman, had known for two years.
And Romney’s camp knew as well.
In an exclusive interview with CNN , chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash asked about his vetting with Romney’s advisers.
“I told Mitt Romney everything,” Portman said. “That process is, intrusive would be one way to put it. But, no, yeah, I told him everything.”
Portman said his son being gay wasn’t why he was ultimately passed over for Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan. When Bash asked how he knew, Portman replied, “Well, because they told me.”
But lying is second nature to political operatives.
Yes, something changed with regard to Portman’s political appeal as a running mate for Romney a few weeks before the decision to go with the more hardline, better known, and politically divisive Ryan. And now we know what precipitated that change.
Not only did Portman have a gay son, but the public did not know anything about the son, except that he was a student at Yale. Imagine the abject fear that ran through the contingent of Romney advisers when they first discovered Portman’s “secret.”
Because that would have been the way it would have played out in the mainstream press. It would have raised an enormous number of questions, questions that just might have had answers that would have hurt the Republican Party’s positions with its base. Like where Portman stood on same-sex marriage (he was never a very vocal opponent but he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996) and why had he hidden (it being a personal issue would not matter to many in the media and “hidden” would be the allegation) his son’s sexuality from the public for nearly two years? Sen. John McCain’s advisers went through the shock of finding out that Sarah Palin’s unwed, underage, teenage daughter was pregnant just days after she was nominated, forcing Palin and McCain to begin answering questions on moral issues that continually kept the campaign off-balance. It lent the campaign a look of amateurishness for having missed something major in the vetting process and gave the family values mantra a veneer of hypocrisy.
No way Romney’s people wanted to basically repeat the political mistake made by the McCain campaign at almost the same time in the campaign process, having to defend social issue stances when the real political fight was in the economic arena (which was another reason Ryan, with his supposed expertise on matters fiscal, was chosen).
No, there was no way the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee was going to choose a man whose son was gay, something that would raised questions if it became public knowledge. The foremost problem would have been how to reconcile the gay issue in light of the Republican Party’s platform position on gay marriage , which was to leave the institution under the jurisdiction of the states while promoting a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Some will argue that former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, Mary, was known to the public and presented few if any problems for the GOP. However, Mary Cheney was openly gay, and not a “secret.” Portman’s son could have been an explosive reveal during the 2012 campaign.
Portman revealing the very personal issue to Romney’s camp allowed it to dodge a bullet that could have potentially killed the campaign among its own party faithful even before it actually got started.
At least “they” had the tact to tell Portman that he wasn’t chosen because his son was gay and his (Portman’s) altering views on same-sex marriage would have been a press relations nightmare for the Romney camp and the GOP. It was politically smart as well not to alienate Portman, who was a heavy campaigner for Romney in battleground Ohio. A perceived slight to his family could have curtailed his support somewhat, possibly raising serious questions prior to the GOP convention and the presidential campaign.
But now we know why the guy most likely to become Romney’s vice presidential pick wasn’t chosen.