Romney Baffled by Own Party

Yesterday’s big campaign trail news was from Ohio, where upon being questioned by a local reporter about the Blunt amendment the Senate is set to vote on today, Mitt Romney managed to utter Republican heresy:

I’m not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I’m not going there.

Not getting into questions about contraception! Sacre bleu! Those are questions about religious freedom, no? Has Romney not been receiving missives from Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, and Eagle Forum? Has he not noted the importance to Republicans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, of the Humanae Vitae?

Greg Sargent has the whole rundown. ONN reporter Jim Heath asked Romney, “Blunt-Rubio is being debated later this week that deals with allowing employers to ban providing female contraception,” to which Romney provided the above answer. Then a Romney campaign spokesman told TPM, “Regarding the Blunt bill, the way the question was asked was confusing. Governor Romney supports the Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith.” Later, on a Boston radio program, Romney himself finally realized what talking points he was supposed to use: “Of course I support the Blunt amendment. I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception so I was simply — misunderstood the question and of course I support the Blunt amendment.”

A few things. The Blunt amendment would not ban contraception per se, but would permit any employer, whether religious institution or not, to decide to not cover any medical or pharmaceutical care or device because it violated his or her religious conscience. The amendment is ridiculously overbroad, completely outside the settled law on religious exemptions, and could lead to all sorts of negative results beyond restricting coverage for contraception. Nonetheless, Romney’s own party has relentlessly described it as essential to the protection of religious liberty. That Romney (a) wasn’t aware of what the bill was (supposedly) and (b) failed to recognize that the only acceptable soundbite in response to any question about birth control is “religious freedom!” is only going to reinforce, for the religious right, that he’s out of step with their issues.

Oh, but he’s not. He apparently recognized that it would be totally plausible for a state legislator to introduce a bill preventing people from getting contraception.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email