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Op-Ed

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Todd Akin: Going for distance

You can almost hear the Republicans wishing their tent was even bigger.

August 30, 2012|Michael Kinsley
  • Mitt Romney and his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan arrive for a campaign rally in Powell, Ohio.
Mitt Romney and his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan arrive for… (Evan Vucci / Associated…)

In an interview on the eve of his acceptance of the Republican Party's nomination for president, Mitt Romney sought to distance himself from his running mate and criticized those who would, as he put it, "chain us together."

"I mean, who is Paul Ryan?" Romney said, referring to the member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin who is the party's vice presidential nominee. "He's just some congressman who happens to be highly opinionated, as it turns out. But why should that reflect on me, just because I picked him? I had to pick somebody, you know, and he seemed like a pleasant fellow. I didn't know all of his views on abortion or what have you. I still don't. Why should I? After the election, if we win or if we lose, I'll probably never see him again. Or at least that's my intention.

"As for President Barack Obama," he continued, "it's just sad, so sad, that he is wasting time trying to goad me into taking a coherent position on the sanctity of human life when there are so many more important issues being ignored. I believe in the sanctity of human life and I believe that life begins at conception, except in cases of rape or incest when it doesn't. How does that work, exactly? I have no idea and no intention of finding out. Paul Ryan may disagree, and that's his privilege. But I'm going to be the president, not him, and I'm in good health and I am tired of talking about this so let's move on."

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Meanwhile, Ryan has been distancing himself from Todd Akin, the Republican representative whose advanced views on rape have been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks. Asked his opinion about Akin and his controversial theories, Ryan had the same reaction as Romney: "Who?"

As recently as last year, Ryan cosponsored a bill with Akin that would require a full body scan each time any doctor wishes to perform an abortion. In an interview, Akin clarified that he meant a full body scan of the doctor. "Studies have shown that doctors who have performed an abortion are more likely to develop cancer than doctors who have never performed an abortion," Akin said. "Or at least that's what someone told me. Or maybe I read it somewhere. Anyway."

Ryan said, "Where in the world does he get this stuff?" He said he has "no memory" of cosponsoring the bill. "I cosponsor a lot of bills, just to be polite. Everybody does. You can't hold me to the contents of any particular piece of legislation, just because I cosponsored it.

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"The point is, though, that it's just him and has nothing to do with me just as I have nothing to do with Gov. Romney, and Gov. Romney has nothing to do with Rep. Akin. The Republican Party is a big tent, as you know. We believe in individual rights, although we also have room for people who don't believe in individual rights — as is their right.

All three men, in interviews, took care to distance themselves from the 2012 Republican platform. "Never even seen it," Romney said. "What's it say?"

Told that it calls for a ban on abortion with no exceptions, Romney said: "You see? That is just the kind of issue I want to distance myself from. Is that a copy you're holding? Well, get rid of it."

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Ryan conceded that some of the platform's more controversial passages might reflect his influence. Yet he added, "Just because I agree with some of it is no reason to associate me with it."

Reporters at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., were unable to find anyone who would admit to having read the platform, let alone claim credit for authorship of it. In fact, no one can remember where it came from. "It just materialized one day. We glanced through it," said an RNC spokesperson. "We thought, 'Well, here's something interesting,' so we posted it on our Facebook page. But that doesn't mean we endorse any particular view expressed in it."

Akin said, "I was talking to a guy in a bar who told me that space aliens had landed during the night and had left behind copies of the platform before returning to Mars. Apparently, they wanted to distance themselves from it."

Michael Kinsley, a former editorial page editor of The Times, is a Bloomberg View columnist.

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