Why is Mitt Romney talking about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky?

Mitt Romney says he's made his last run for office, but he still gets asked about controversial political issues. Sunday it was Sen. Rand Paul's connecting Hillary Rodham Clinton to Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky scandal.

NBC News
Former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney as he appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Ever since Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky began railing about Bill Clinton being a “predator” for his affair 16 years ago with White House intern Monica Lewinsky – and, more to the point as the next presidential election approaches, trying to connect the former president’s past to 2016 Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton – other Republicans have been asked to comment.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday it was Mitt Romney.

Now, Mr. Romney – the former Massachusetts governor and failed 2012 Republican presidential candidate – is under no obligation to comment, and he’s made very clear that he’s run his last political campaign.

(Although as Monitor White House correspondent Linda Feldmann wrote recently, “Liberal columnists had so much fun during the past two presidential cycles with Romney – the Mormon plutocrat with the big, attractive family – that they’re almost trying to will another campaign into existence.” How else to explain the buzz over the recent sympathetic documentary “Mitt” and his frequent appearances on Sunday morning talk shows?)

But Romney is a polite and earnest man, and if asked, he will answer. Here’s some of what he said Sunday:

"I think her record is what will be judged upon, and not the record of her husband…. Hillary Clinton, if she becomes the nominee, will have plenty to discuss about her own record, and I don't imagine that Bill Clinton is going to be a big part of it."

"That being said, the times when he was president were, by and large, positive economic times for the country. On the other hand, he embarrassed the nation, he breached his responsibility, I think, as an adult and as a leader in this relationship, and I think that's unfortunate. But I don't think that's Hillary Clinton's to explain. She has her own record and her own vision for where she would take the country."

In other words, as biblical scripture almost says, the sins of the husband should not be visited upon the wife.

Republican strategist Karl Rove essentially made the same point on “Fox News Sunday.”

Asked if Bill Clinton’s past would help Republicans win the presidency, Mr. Rove said, “It may.”

“But the trouble for Republicans is it’s easier to say what you’re against than what you are for,” the Fox News contributor continued. “It’s more important to say what you're for. Anyone taking on Hillary Clinton – Democrat or Republican – had better focus on what they're for to contrast implicitly against Hillary.”

But back to Mitt Romney.

As long as he’s seen by TV schedulers and talk show hosts as interesting to the public, he’ll be asked to comment on important issues – especially ones that may be generating controversy and political conflict. Like same-sex marriage.

It’s not surprising that he’s opposed to gay marriage – although, interestingly, a recent poll by the Salt Lake Tribune finds that Utahns in heavily-Mormon Utah are now evenly split on the issue. As governor, he opposed the legislation which made Massachusetts the first state to legalize such marriages.

But his comments today seem more nuanced, more accepting of what may be the inevitably of same-sex marriage as it becomes legal under state and federal law.

"I think marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," he said Sunday on NBC. "And I think the ideal setting for raising a child is in a setting where there's a father and mother. Now there are many other different settings that children are raised in, and people have the right to live their life as they want to. But I think marriage should be defined in the way it's been defined for several thousand years. And if gay couples want to live together, that's fine as well, that's their right."

“I think you stand for various principles. You communicate those to the American people, and they either support those or not,” he said. “Sometimes, if something is lost, well, you move on to the next issue. You wish you’d have won that one, but you move on.”

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