On Wednesday Mitt Romney managed within hours to take two diametrically opposing positions on an issue. And, in doing so, he gave voters across the political spectrum a reminder of why they find him untrustworthy.
Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) proposed a rider to the completely unrelated Surface Transportation Reauthorization. (For an explanation of why the transportation bill would be disastrous if passed, for other reasons, see here.) The amendment would have allowed employers providing health insurance not to cover any treatment they find morally objectionable. The impetus was a desire to overturn President Obama’s administrative requirement in implementing the Affordable Care Act that employers cover contraception. But Blunt’s proposal went much further than that.
What happened next is amazing, even though if you know Mitt Romney it should be familiar by now. When first asked about the amendment Romney gave the answer that a Republican from the party’s deceased moderate Northeastern wing would. Shortly thereafter he reversed, kowtowing to the extreme right. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Asked in an interview with the Ohio News Network if he supported a Senate amendment that would allow employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control on religious or moral grounds, the GOP presidential hopeful said he did not. “I’m not for that bill, but look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, a husband and wife—I’m not going there,” Romney told reporter Jim Heath.
Previously, when Romney has made sane statements regarding the existence of anthropogenic climate change or Ohio Governor John Kasich’s unpopular assault on unions, he came under intense criticism from conservative pundits and activists. Then he flip-flopped.
The conservative movement’s ability to discipline presidential aspirants for apostasies has become so ingrained that they no longer even need to exercise it. Romney’s campaign immediately claimed that he does in fact support the Blunt amendment and he only said otherwise because he didn’t understand the question.
That was the line Romney took in a radio interview later in the day:
I didn’t understand his question. 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.
Of course, a law that actually banned contraception would be more extreme than one that merely allows employer-based insurance not to cover it. But for many American women, as a practical matter, the result would be the same. Many tests and medicines are prohibitively expense for the average American if they have to pay out of pocket, the dismissive jokes of wealthy Republicans to the contrary notwithstanding. The DNC released a video laying out just what Blunt’s amendment would mean. Employers could deny coverage of such essential preventive care as mammograms, prenatal screenings, cervical cancer screenings, contraception and vaccines.
So in one day, while commenting on an amendment that had no chance of becoming law because President Obama would have vetoed it, Romney managed to give everyone across the political spectrum a reason not to trust him. Conservatives will be concerned by his initial response. Liberals will be offended by the second. And everyone has another example of how Romney is a sleazy politician, with no core values, who will say anything to get elected. If you’re wondering how Romney has managed not to dispatch the unpleasant, unpopular, washed-up extremists Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, this is your answer.
The Blunt amendment was defeated Thursday morning, but the political damage to Romney should last at least through this election cycle.