Mitt Romney says America is a ‘center-right’ nation. Is that true?

(Erin Schaff | The New York Times) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) talks with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 18, 2020.

Sen. Mitt Romney broke the hearts of Democrats and liberals on Tuesday by announcing he would be willing to cast a vote for President Donald Trump’s pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy that resulted from the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

In part, Romney justified his decision by saying America, and Americans, are more conservative than liberal.

“My liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court, and that’s not written in the stars. It’s also appropriate for a nation, which is, if you will, center-right to have a court which reflects a center-right point of view,” he said.

Is that true? Is this country center-right?

One measure that backs up Romney’s comment is this Gallup poll, released back in January. It shows the long trend of more people self-identifying as conservative and moderate than liberal. In 2019, 37% said they were conservative, 35% moderate and 24% liberal.

But conservative/liberal isn’t the only way to gauge the public. And we can go back to Gallup for more info. When it comes to party affiliation, the percentages flip.

Half of U.S. adults either identify as Democrats or independents who lean toward the Democratic Party, while 39 percent say they are Republicans or Republican-leaners. Historically, Democrats have held an edge in party affiliation since Gallup began measuring party identification in 1991, but the organization says the current double-digit advantage toward Democrats is unusual.

And it is hard to argue that the modern-day Republican and Democratic parties are center-anything. They’ve been becoming more polarized for years.

Clear majorities of Americans support several liberal and progressive policy proposals, too. A 2019 survey found 84% of Americans back paid maternity leave, 75% believe in government funding for childcare, and 60% favor increasing the minimum wage. Additionally, 57% say they agree with free public college tuition and 54% want universal healthcare. All of those are policies that would not be as popular in a country filled with center-right voters.

The news of Ginsberg’s death immediately focused public attention on abortion and the possibility that putting a more conservative justice on the court could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. A 2019 survey from the Pew Research Center finds that 61% of Americans think abortion should remain legal in all or most cases, and 70% oppose overturning Roe.

Even the Affordable Care Act, a frequent target of conservative ire, enjoys slightly more support than opposition. The Kaiser Family Foundation monthly tracking survey shows 49% of Americans favor the 2010 healthcare law while 42% are opposed.

Also if Romney’s contention were true, the 2012 Republican nominee might be finishing his second term in the White House. Only once since 1992 has the Republican presidential candidate received more votes than their Democratic opponent and that’s when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004. But thanks to the Electoral College, Republican candidates won the White House in 2000 and 2016.

Republicans certainly are feeling an urgency to push through this lifetime appointment, and soon, likely before the election. There’s a real possibility that Trump could lose in November, or the GOP loses their Senate majority. If one, or both of those happen, the chances of Trump’s nominee winning confirmation drops precipitously. Republicans need to make hay while the (political) sun shines.

A poll taken shortly after Ginsberg’s death last week found 62% of Americans believe the winner of the Nov. 3 election should fill the vacancy, while just 23% disagreed.

Another salient data point: Democrat Joe Biden is ahead of Trump by 6.9 percentage points in the national polling average. As it stands, Trump is likely to lose the popular vote again in November, maybe by an even greater margin than in 2016.

Romney didn’t hang his hat solely on the center-right argument. He also relied on the Constitution. The president’s job is to nominate a potential justice and the senators are there to advise and consent. He says he’ll consider the nominee’s qualifications when the time comes. In that way, he mirrored his Utah colleague,

Sen. Mike Lee, who recognizes the current process is governed by politics, and the GOP is in control.

“If we like the nominee, we will confirm her,” Lee said. “If we don’t, we won’t. It’s that simple.”