Mitt Romney is under increasing pressure today to further distance himself from Richard Mourdock after the Indiana GOP Senate candidate’s remarks about rape and God created a national firestorm. Yet according to various reports, the Romney camp has gone silent on the matter, and there are no public indications that this is going to change.
Democrats have succeeded into turning Mourdock’s comments into a second day national media story. This morning, Obama subtly tied Romney to Mourdock, saying: “As we saw again this week, I don’t think any politician in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making health care decisions for women.” Reporters hit Romney with another round of questions about Mourdock today, but according to CNN, Romney refused to answer them. As Jed Lewison puts it, Romney has “entered a virtual cocoon of silence.”
Meanwhile, even Republican Jon Huntsman (admittedly a Romney rival) implicitly criticized Romney’s handling of the mess, claiming: “I would have simply said, `I’m withdrawing my support.’”
Why the Romney reticence? What’s the downside for Romney in cutting Mourdock loose, particularly given how intense the battle for the female vote has become?
Michael Cooper suggests an answer: Romney is worried that pulling support for Mourdock risks alienating evangelicals, whose turnout in the key battlegrounds may prove crucial to his hopes. Cooper:
White evangelical Christian voters made up 26 percent of the vote in 2008, but they were an even bigger slice of the electorate in some crucial swing states: Exit polls suggested that evangelicals made up 30 percent of the vote in Ohio, 31 percent in Iowa, 44 percent in North Carolina and 28 percent in Virginia. And those states voted for President Obama in 2008.
Could this be why Romney will only say he disagrees with Mourdock but won’t pull his support for him? I don’t know, but if so, it’s remarkable. After all, Romney has already run away from positions he originally adopted during the primary to reassure social conservatives and evangelicals inclined to suspect Romney was not one of them. He didn’t pay any price among them for that. When Todd Akin got in trouble for his now-infamous “legitimate rape” comments, Romney called on Akin to exit the Senate race. He didn’t pay any price for that, either — even though evangelicals rallied around Akin after the comments.
Meanwhile, on the policy substance of this debate, the public is overwhelmingly against the Mourdock position. As Steve Benen notes, a recent poll showed that 83 percent support terminating pregnancies that result in rape. Romney agrees with that, too, but he continues to support a candidate who doesn’t merely disagree with it — he disagrees with it because he believes life created by rape is part of God’s plan. If Cooper is right, Romney has calculated that the political downsides of pulling support from someone holding that position are just too great.