`It seems like it's spreading," Brian Camenker tells me, letting outa mischievous little laugh. "It" is his 10,000-word report detailingMitt Romney's record on social issues, a document that, for thelast few weeks, has been moving through Christian-right circleslike a copy of Playboy at a 1950s summer camp. And perhaps that'sbecause there's an element of the pornographic in Camenker'sdossier. With occasional flashes of Internet-quality vividness, thereport links the Massachusetts governor and conservativepresidential hopeful to fisting and golden showers. While some ofthe connections Camenker makes are tenuous at best, he is desperateto stymie Romney's growing popularity with the religious right. Andwhat could play worse with the Falwell set than implying Romney'ssympathy for women with penises?
The man behind the report is no Colorado Springs native or Christiancrusader. Camenker is, in fact, Jewish. He runs MassResistance, hispro-family values organization, out of Waltham, Massachusetts.Working amid such hostile surroundings (Brandeis University isnearby) has instilled a zeal for the culture war that Gary Bauermight envy. He has even scored some small victories, includinguncovering transgendered mannequins at a Boston Macy's. "The gayswent nuts!" he says with delight. His expose of what he calls"Fistgate"--how the state of Massachusetts was teaching gay teens"how to put their hands up other kids' rectums"--was featured on"Hannity & Colmes" and "The O'Reilly Factor."
But, until last month, his obscure organization had never tried totake down a presidential candidate. Speaking with the aw-shuckseagerness of a local fringe activist about to go national, he sayshe was encouraged by conservatives in other states hungry to learnabout Romney's bona fides from someone who had watched him upclose. "We would, from time to time, send little bits and piecesabout Romney to conservatives in states like Michigan and SouthCarolina, and the reaction from people was always the same: `Send usmore!'" When George Allen, the conservatives' last great hope,dropped off the political stage amid charges of racism andattention turned to Romney, MassResistance saw its opportunity todo just that.
While most of Romney's flip-flops on social issues are generallyknown, the excruciating detail of Camenker's report might make ittough for conservatives to embrace Romney. He takes readers throughRomney's promise to be a greater champion of gay rights than TedKennedy, his support for the rights of same-sex couples who adoptchildren, his embrace of civil unions, his opposition to the BoyScouts' ban on gay scoutmasters. Camenker reminds his fellowconservatives that Romney appointed numerous openly gay men andwomen, including the state employee responsible for adding a box todriver's license renewal forms to indicate whether the applicant'ssex has changed. He points out, with links to many interestingpictures, that the governor's Commission on Gay and LesbianYouth--the same government body whose fisting seminars so rankledCamenker back in 2000--organized a "Youth Pride Day" and"Transgender Proms." No detail escapes Camenker's attention. Henotes that Romney's Department of Education distributed apublication, The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century, thatincludes the following practical information: "There is little riskof STD infection and no risk of HIV infection from playing withpee."
The stark facts Camenker has uncovered about Romney's record areputting social conservatives in a bind. On the one hand,transgenderism and urine don't play well on the right. And theevangelical poo-bahs have made predictable noises about beingshocked--shocked!--by Camenker's revelations. According toCamenker, James Dobson has read the report and is "disturbed." TheCouncil for National Policy, a group of influential conservatives,sent the report out to its members. This could spell death forRomney. As Gary Glenn, another conservative Romney-hater andCamenker disciple, explains, "Social conservatives are not going toknowingly support an individual who spent his entire politicalcareer supporting abortion on demand and endorsing almost everyaspect of the homosexual political agenda and, on top of that,punitive gun control."
But, on the other hand, Romney may really be conservatives' onlyhope against the dreaded John McCain. The alternatives--SamBrownback, Duncan Hunter, and Tom Tancredo--are all too fringe tobe taken seriously. And Romney has, in the last two years, adoptedthe right's views on abortion and changed his tone on gay rights.Are social conservatives stuck with a pro-golden shower candidate?
The inside-the-Beltway reaction to the details of Romney's recordsuggests the answer could be yes. Most Washington conservativeshave either ignored the report or put a positive spin on it. "Ithink that this Romney then-vs.-now memo [that's] out (punintended) and circulating now, is a bit of a gift to his campaign,"a blogger at National Review cheerily wrote, arguing that it'sbetter for such information to appear early in the process. WhatMassachusetts conservatives like Camenker see as Romney's fouryears of deal-making and capitulation to the left, Romney hassuccessfully sold to national conservatives as four years ofmuscular confrontation with the out-of-control liberal governmenthe inherited. The pitch has gone down easy with conservativesbecause they need an anti-McCain. They don't seem eager to allowsome homophobe in Massachusetts to spoil things. "We're getting alot of negative reaction from Republicans," notes Camenker, whosays he's been surprised at the hostility. "`Why are you doingthis? Why are you attacking Romney? He's better than Giuliani andMcCain.'"
For all his success in bringing Romney's pro-gay, pro-abortionrecord before the most influential conservatives in the UnitedStates, when I press him, Camenker admits that it might not matter.With the resignation that comes naturally to a Jewish socialconservative from Massachusetts, he accepts that his natural alliesmight willfully ignore Romney's liberal tendencies. "I've alwaysaccused liberals of going with their emotions, not thinking thingsthrough, and generally being stupid and having a very shallow way oflooking at the issues," he tells me at the end of our conversation,sounding disappointed. "I'm finding the same thing on our side."
By ryan lizza