Interview: Romney Advisor James Bopp, Jr.

James Bopp Jr. is a key advisor to Mitt Romney on family and life issues. We talked to him about his decision to support Romney and the open fight that broke out among religious conservatives. Bopp is a named partner in the law firm of Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom, Bopp’s practice focuses on non-profit corporate and tax law, on campaign finance and election law, on life issues including abortion, and on U.S. Supreme Court practice. He has argued numerous campaign finance cases in defense of pro-life, pro-family, conservative and Republican party groups, including four cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. He also serves as General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech and is a member of the Republican National Committee.

How did he come to support Romney?

Bopp says: “I didn’t know him personally but obviously I watched his career and was particularly interested because of his strong support for marriage which was seriously under assault in Massachusetts.” Bopp says he had been impressed with his record of “tremendous leadership skills” in running the Olympics and as a businessman and executive but had to assure himself that Romney’s conversion to the pro-life cause was “sincere.” He met with Romney and came away satisfied by Romney’s words but also by his actual record as Gov. Bopp says: “Unfortunately there are some people in the pro-life movement who are not willing to accept converts. Our whole thrust is to gain converts. If you are not willing to accept them we are doomed to defeat.”

What does he think of the public argument between James Dobson (who he has represented) and other Christian leaders?

He says that the discussion reflects that the movement is “very large” and the vigorous debate is “very healthy.” He says that “we are just going to have people with different ways of looking at it.”

Is Romney’s Mormonism a barrier to acceptance by Christian conservative leaders?

Bopp says: “Over the last 40 years we have seen each religious movement be looked at in terms of whether a person is acceptable to be president. We saw JFK as a Catholic. We saw George H.W. Bush as an Evangelical Christian. We saw Joe Lieberman as a Jew and now we have Mitt Romney as a Mormon. In each case some people paused and had to think and each time we have come down on the side that it is acceptable.” He continues that: “We are not looking for a Pastor in Chief.” He acknowledges that Romney’s Mormon faith may have “slowed his rise” but is confident it ultimately will not be a barrier to his election.

How important is the issue of marriage?

Bopp says that it is “extremely important,” emphasizing that Romney is the only top tier candidate who supports a constitutional amendment explicitly requiring that all marriage be between a man and a woman. He explains: “If we don’t settle the issue and don’t protect marriage consistently as between a man and a woman, the opposite [legalized gay marriage] will be the result.” He is blunt about Fred Thompson’s objection that such an amendment would contravene principles of federalism by supplanting the states’ role in family and marriage. He says: “It is a cop out to say we’re not for a national definition. It is the states — ¾ must agree — which ratify a constitutional amendment so it is a decision by the states.” He continues: “We have a choice on a very fundamental question. Free speech, freedom of religion — we don’t leave to the states. Marriage is so fundamental that it is properly one [issue] to reside in the Constitution.”

Why is McCain Feingold issue voters should care about?

Bopp says this “goes to the heart of citizens’ involvement in our democracy. To talk about ‘corruption’ is a smokescreen. There is nothing — not a word — in McCain-Feingold about corrupt politicians. It is all about limiting citizens. And it was directed at advocacy groups and political parties.” He is particularly critical of the statute’s issue ad ban black out period which he views as an effort by “incumbent politicians to immunize themselves from criticism.”

What are Romney’s views on judicial activism?

Bopp argues that Romney “more than anyone understands it because he lived through it” as governor of Massachusetts in the battle against judicial imposition of gay marriage. Bopp says that the public has begun to understand that liberals are seeking to appoint judges “to apply their own personal views.” He notes that liberals have tried to redefine “judicial activism” and blur the difference between activist judges and those who adhere to the proper role of judging by contending that any time a judge strikes down a federal or state law it is “judicial activism.” He explains that this is fallacious since “it is the obligation of a judge to strike down a law when it violates the Constitution.” Judicial activism according to Bopp is when judges ignore the plain meaning and intent of the Constitution and “treats the Constitution as an empty vessel” for their own policy preferences.

What should voters consider in picking a president?

Bopp says that he would not support a candidate who is not a conservative but that voters should put more stock in who will be “viable” and who has the skills to be in charge of “managing the largest enterprise in the world.”  As a Romney supporter he contends that Romney can “get the job done” both in organizing a campaign and as president. Bopp argues that debates, for example, are given far too much attention since they “have absolutely nothing to do with fundraising skills, organizational skills or management skills” although he acknowledges communication skills are important as well. In short, he says that a candidate who lacks organizational skills will be “an utter failure” both in the campaign and as president.

Are GOP voters looking for a “fantasy” candidate?

Bopp says that there “is an obsession with a fantasy candidate” which is promoted by “mainstream media to denigrate conservative candidates.” Bopp says that the media has “idealized Ronald Reagan and measure all candidates by him. Ronald Reagan could not meet the idealized version of Ronald Reagan. He signed the most liberalized abortion law in the country, he raised taxes.” Bopp contends that my holding up an impossible model of conservative virtue, media pundits then “use that to undermine current conservative candidates.” The media then, Bopp says, encourages voters to “fantasize about current, non-candidates” like Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson who when they enter the race don’t measure up either.

What will the GOP nominee need to do to beat Hillary or another Democrat?

Bopp jokes that if he knew that he’d “be a billionaire” but says that it will depend on the “competency, communication skills and hard work of our nominee. We will have to get through the media filter.”