Although not many people in high places may notice what I’m doing, I’d like to ask the following questions to three of the surviving GOP presidential contenders. First, why did Mitt Romney, as late as 2002, respond to a questionnaire from Planned Parenthood indicating that he fully supported Roe v. Wade and favored state funding for abortion?

According to his stated positions at the time, which were reported in the Boston Globe, Romney also favored allowing minors to obtain abortions without parental consent. Whatever one may think about these issues, Romney has been flip-flopping on social questions more often than he wants us to believe. Supposedly he had moved from wiggling somewhere to the left of Teddy Kennedy on abortion, while running unsuccessfully against him for the Senate in 1994, to being a “family-issues conservative” a few years later. By 2002, according to this frequently recounted narrative, he had undergone l sea change. As the Santorum campaign tried to point out during the recent Michigan primary, this change is not at all evident from Romney’s record; or else this change came later, when Romney’s presidential ambitions became stronger and he had to contend for votes from the Religious Right.

Second, if Santorum is as gloomy about the moral state of his country as he appears to be from his campaign speeches, how do we explain that he switches gears abruptly when he discusses America’s role in the world? Then we become a shining city on a hill and a chosen people required to bring the human rights we exemplify to the rest of humanity. This schizophrenia is characteristic not only of Santorum but of those Religious Right spokesmen and politicians I’ve been listening to. I wish they could make up their minds. Either we’re going to hell in a hand basket; or we’re so glowingly virtuous that we have a mission to make everyone exactly like us. Which is it?

Actually it’s both. There is a tendency in American Protestantism, going back to the 17th century, to depict one’s community and finally, one’s country as both sinful and saintly, depending on the lesson being taught or the goal being sought. Although a Catholic, Santorum is seizing on the same mixed rhetoric, depending on the policy under consideration. Thus we are reprehensible in some social issues but also God’s Elect when it comes to plunging into foreign wars. Another obvious factor here is the neoconservative influence on the GOP and the Religious Right, which is exercised through Fox, Wall Street Journal and other such vehicles of opinion. The Religious Right, which I have the impression is especially addicted to Republican opinion sources, is quite likely to absorb the neoconservatives’ big idea, which is a continuing crusade for democracy against all antidemocrats.

This idea fits the notion of American exceptionalism and the religiously based Zionism, both of which are typical of the Religious Right. And so candidates like Santorum and Gingrich, who have a competition going about who can take the most over-the-top neoconservative line, do well with the Religious Right for foreign- policy as well as social-issues reasons.

Third, why does Ron Paul (who is far from a fool) believe he can cut a deal with Romney? From what I’ve been reading and hearing, Paul has refrained from criticizing Romney and has aimed his fire at Romney’s rivals because he thinks he can get Romney to agree to make Ron’s son Rand, who is a Senator from Kentucky, his vice presidential running mate. This will never happen. Neither establishment GOP bigwigs like Karl Rove nor the Rupert Murdoch-neocon media would ever permit such a deal to come about. Right now, for better or worse, these are Romney’s allies, whom he will have to depend on after his nomination.

The Pauls, father and son, are poison to that establishment, which supports all things they oppose, such as an interventionist foreign policy and further military adventures, and a massive welfare state that provides patronage for the GOP faithful and programs for GOP voters. This establishment sees in Romney the “moderate” that it wants, not someone who would seriously reduce the size of government or practice military retrenchment. Even in a number two spot, Ron Paul or his like-minded son would not fit the job requirement.

The only way Ron Paul can have any clout at the national level is through a third-party challenge. He has no reason to imagine that the GOP will make room for him or his son. A better way to shake up things than by living with an empty hope is to seize the spoiler’s role. Make it hard on the GOP establishment to go on ignoring the real small-government conservatives. But this is only possible if Ron Paul acts boldly, by causing the GOP to lose disastrously in November.