Long before Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin flapped his gums about the female body’s magical ability to prevent pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape,” Democrats were conducting an aggressive campaign to cast Mitt Romney as an extremist on social issues.
First, the Obama campaign claimed in the spring that Romney was waging a “war on women” by opposing Obamacare’s contraception and abortifacient mandate. Romney would “deny women access to birth control,” the Obama campaign claimed, as if an employer’s failure to provide a free lunch would amount to “denying workers access to food.”
In July, the Obama campaign launched a television ad claiming that “Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.” The ad was blatantly false. Since his pro-life conversion, Romney’s official position has always been that there should be exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is endangered. Even PolitiFact, the left-leaning “fact checking” website, declared the Obama ad was a “Pants on Fire” lie.
But that hasn’t stopped the Obama campaign from repeating this lie in TV ads and direct mail to voters. When Paul Ryan was announced as Romney’s vice presidential pick, Democratic operatives attacked and distorted Ryan’s position on abortion almost as much as they attacked and distorted his plan to reform Medicare. As one liberal columnist at the Washington Post observed last week, Obama has “emerged as the most vocal culture warrior of the election.”
The odd thing about the 2012 culture war is how one-sided it has been. When the Obama campaign has falsely accused Romney of trying to “deny women access” to contraception, the Romney campaign has not responded by going on offense against Obama’s extreme record—which includes support for taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand and third-trimester abortions. The Romney campaign has responded with silence in hopes that their refusal to engage will keep the election focused on the economy.
“Every moment between now and November should be spent talking about the No. 1 issue for women and men, and that’s the economy,” Romney campaign adviser and former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healey said in an interview with the New York Times last week. “Anything that distracts from that is not what we should be talking about.”
The problem is the Romney campaign doesn’t get to decide that the economy is the only issue in the race. As last week’s frenzied guilt-by-association campaign to link Todd Akin to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan has shown, the Obama campaign and the press get a say, too.
If Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan gets asked a difficult question about Medicare or foreign policy, he can’t respond by pointing out that the unemployment rate is 8.3 percent. He has to discuss the issue at hand. And to their credit, Romney and Ryan were quite effective at going on the offensive against Obama’s Medicare rationing and cuts. Why not go on the offensive against Obama’s radical position on social issues too?
A Quinnipiac poll asked voters in December 2009: “Do you support or oppose using public funds to pay for abortions under a health care reform bill?” Seventy-two percent of voters opposed public funding of abortion and 23 percent supported it. The November election will determine whether abortion-funding under Obama-care—the issue that nearly took down the bill in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress—actually takes effect.
Obama’s support of a legal regime that permits late-term abortion-on-demand is also deeply unpopular. According to the most recent Gallup poll, 86 percent of Americans think third-trimester abortions should be illegal. Obama’s with the 14 percent.
So extreme is Obama’s commitment to abortion-on-demand that as an Illinois state senator he opposed measures to protect infants who had been born alive during botched late-term abortions. The president is so dedicated to “women’s rights” that this summer he opposed a ban on gender-selective abortions—the abortion of girls because they are girls. During a speech to students at Sichuan University in 2011, Vice President Joe Biden condoned China’s brutal one-child policy, which includes forced abortions. “Your policy has been one which I fully understand—I’m not second-guessing—of one child per family,” Biden said, before arguing that the policy was making the country demographically unstable. The Obama administration has sent U.S. tax dollars to support “family planning” initiatives in China and elsewhere.
The press would much rather focus on the issue of banning abortion in the case of rape—an issue on which three-quarters of the electorate is pro-choice—than on any of the abortion questions that would hurt the president. But there’s a big difference between banning abortion in the case of rape, a policy Romney does not support and that has no chance of becoming U.S. law, and permitting late-term and taxpayer-funded abortions—existing laws that President Obama actively supports.
The Romney campaign’s silence on abortion stands in contrast to successful Republican presidential campaigns of the past. Although the Iraq war and the economy were front-and-center in 2004, John Kerry ran TV ads warning that another Bush term would lead to the end of Roe v. Wade, and the Bush campaign hit Kerry with ads about the Massachusetts senator’s support for partial-birth abortion. According to the exit poll, 22 percent of voters in 2004 cited “moral values” as their most important issue, and these voters broke 80 percent to 18 percent in Bush’s favor. Those voters haven’t disappeared in eight short years.
A significant number of working-class voters are leery of big business and changes to Medicare, but they might vote for Romney because of social issues. The Pew Research Center calls these socially conservative, economically liberal voters “disaffecteds.” They supported John McCain over Barack Obama by a 16-point margin in 2008—and that margin swelled to a 38-point advantage for Republicans over Democrats in 2010, helping to account for the GOP’s landslide that year.
Romney also needs to improve his margin among Latino voters in states like Colorado, and Latinos are more socially conservative than the electorate at large. Even many pro-choice suburban women, the primary population the Romney campaign seems to think of when it imagines “swing voters,” are not supportive of Obama’s radical positions on social issues. But don’t expect many voters to find out about Obama’s out-of-the mainstream views if Republicans and the Romney campaign don’t talk about them.
John McCormack is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.