Mitt Romney and Republican mainstreamers would like to be doing a lot of things leading into next week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. They could flog President Obama over the stubbornly high jobless rate. It would be great to highlight a young and energetic running mate, Paul Ryan. And Team Romney dearly wants to roll out more biographical material to soften the candidate’s plastic persona.
Instead, the Republicans have spent the last three days bogged down in a discussion they did not want to have — on the divisive question of abortion. The issue is an uncomfortable one for Romney, who has switched positions — once supporting abortion rights and now opposing abortion in all but cases of rape, incest and threats to the life of the mother.
And the issue comes to the GOP candidate via a most distasteful vehicle — the foolhardy musing of Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin that women who suffer “legitimate” rape seldom get pregnant. Akin attributed that power to some unspecified biological process in which women’s bodies apparently fend off the attacking genetic material. Really.
PHOTOS: "Legitimate rape" and other disastrous quotes
Just about everyone of stature in the main ranks of the GOP has called for Akin to get out of the race. But the furor continues to stir up uncomfortable truths — including the fact that Romney himself made an ally of the controversial doctor, Jack C. Willke, who is the apparent father of Akin’s magical thinking about rape and pregnancy.
The GOP’s presumptive nominee also ran afoul of the public’s generally more moderate position by choosing a running mate, Ryan, who joined Akin and others in calling for legal recognition of life beginning at conception. The Wisconsin congressman previously had called for no abortions even in cases of rape, though he has agreed to bow to Romney’s view on that point. And as if he needed another tether to an issue he would rather forget, the GOP convention platform committee voted Tuesday to oppose abortion, without spelling out exceptions, including in the cases of rape. Romney surely will argue that he — not the faceless figures on the convention panel — will dictate his policy positions. But he still has to waste time making that distinction.
And the no-exceptions antiabortion position puts the GOP well outside the comfort zone of most Americans. A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation Poll completed this month found that just 17% of Americans agreed that abortion should be banned in all cases. The result is much closer to a 50-50 tossup of an abortion ban when the procedure is permitted in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is endangered.
Some of the incongruities among Republicans were visited on Romney, when he became the likely standard bearer of a party more conservative than he is on social issues, including the Akin/rogue wing of the party. But the candidate invited other social issue comparisons by teaming with a running mate whose abortion position is so clearly more unbending than his own.
Romney plods over this unwelcome ground when he wants to talk about many other things.
Akin insisted in a radio interview Tuesday that he would continue to “rush to the gunfire” from his opponents and remain in the race. That caused GOP political consultant Mike Murphy to tweet: “Harry Reid just did his first cartwheel in 57 years.”
Indeed, Democrats are more than happy to fight Romney on turf where they think he can’t win.