Without question, the winner of Wednesday’s Republican debate was Barack Obama. This wasn’t apparent at the beginning; during the first forty minutes, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul argued about earmarks, and made the usual promise to cut taxes, cut spending, and magically balance the budget. But by the end of the event, the candidates had revealed their hostility toward women and Latinos, and further ensured that they would stay on Obama’s side into the fall.
It wasn’t actually until after the first commercial break that moderator John King asked the candidates about the elephant in the room—birth control. After Gingrich went through the usual motion of insulting King for posing the question, the candidates embarked on a fantastic voyage of obfuscation, dishonesty, and outright attacks on women’s health.
Mitt Romney, whose ancestors were driven from the country by the government for their religious beliefs, began the exchange with an attack on the administration’s birth control mandate: “I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we’ve seen under Barack Obama.” Of course, the public disagrees, in survey after survey, a majority of Americans—including Catholics—voice support for the administration’s decision to require birth control coverage from religiously affiliated employers.
Rick Santorum followed Romney up with an extended discussion of the “dangers of contraception,” which he defined as of out-of-wedlock births, single-parent homes, and growing poverty. It suffices to say that this was an…odd discussion. By definition, contraception can’t be responsible for out-of-wedlock births, regardless of how much Santorum would like to believe otherwise. To be fair to Santorum, his comments weren’t as bad as Ron Paul’s, who asked his competitors to save their scorn for the women who use the pill, and not the pill itself:
But sort of along the line of the pills creating immorality, I don’t see it that way. I think the immorality creates the problem of wanting to use the pills. So you don’t blame the pills. I think it’s sort of like the argument – conservatives use the argument all the time about guns. Guns don’t kill, criminals kill.
So, in a way, it’s the morality of society that we have to deal with. The pill is there and, you know, it contributes, maybe, but the pills can’t be blamed for the immorality of our society.
Women voters, take note: If you use the pill, you’re immoral, and basically the same as a gun-toting criminal. And while Ron Paul doesn’t stand a chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, this basic sentiment was shared by each candidate on the stage. Indeed, Romney was sure to clarify that “there was no requirement in Massachusetts for the Catholic Church to provide morning-after pills to rape victims.” Arizona Republicans might be impressed by this, but I’m not sure you can say the same of women who might need those services.
For President Obama, whose reelection bid depends on high support from women voters, this was gold. Even better was when the candidates discussed immigration. Newt Gingrich voiced support for a massive wall on the border, Ron Paul doubled-down on the myth that undocumented immigrants “use up” public resources, and Mitt Romney endorsed the Arizona anti-immigration law as a model for the nation.
Even if Republicans were trying to make themselves a hard sell for women and Latinos, I’m not sure they could have done a better job. The Obama campaign must be thrilled.