During Tuesday's debate, Mitt Romney did a sneaky little pivot on the issue of contraception coverage that surely went over the head of most of the people watching. What Romney supports is a Republican bill, the Blunt amendment, that would allow any employer to refuse to include coverage for contraception in employees' health insurance. For many women, that would mean they would be shut out of getting contraception through the plans that, we should note, they paid for themselves (insurance coverage isn't a favor your employer does for you, it's part of your compensation that you get in return for your labor, which means you paid for it). But when it came up in the debate, Romney said this:
"I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And—and the—and the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong."
See what he did there? Instead of answering the actual question of whether your boss should be able to take your coverage for contraception away, he answered a question nobody ever asked, which is whether the government should ban contraception, or whether your boss should be able to literally come to your doctor's office during your appointment and grab the prescription for birth control pills out of your hand. In other words, Romney thinks your boss should be able to cancel your coverage for contraception, but he generously acknowledges that your boss shouldn't actually tell you whether you can use contraception or not. You're welcome, ladies.
Romney is doing something similar on abortion. On the one hand, he has said multiple times that he wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned and wants to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood; on the other he's been claiming that he really has no abortion agenda at all; nothing to see here, everything will stay as it is (here's an ad pitched at women, making the case for Mitt the Moderate on both issues). As Michelle Goldberg tells us, social conservatives haven't said a peep about Romney's new abortion moderation. Why? Because they know it's just for show, and they know what really matters.
I'm sure there are more than a few voters who listen to Romney and say, "Well, he doesn't seem like one of those radical pro-lifers, so I guess I'm OK with him." But this is a helpful reminder that what's in the president's heart is of only minimal importance. The question "Is Mitt Romney really pro-life?" is all but meaningless, not only because it's Mitt Romney we're talking about, and when it comes to policy he has no "real" beliefs that exist outside of the pressures and incentives he has at a given moment. More importantly, when we elect a president we effectively elect an entire party, and the party Mitt Romney represents is the GOP circa 2012, a party more conservative than it has ever been before. There are 3,000 appointed positions in the federal government. Who's going to fill these positions? Why, Republicans, of course. Who's going to be running the Department of Health and Human Services? People who are committed to undermining the Affordable Care Act, because that's what Republicans who work on health care policy believe. Who's going to be running the Department of Labor? Representatives of business who are committed to destroying unions and reducing protections for workers, because that's what Republicans who work on labor issues believe. Who's going to be running the EPA? People who are committed to undermining environmental protections and making it easier for industry to pollute, because that's what Republicans who work on environmental issues believe.
And if Stephen Breyer or Ruth Bader Ginsburg decides to retire in two years, would President Romney say, "Just find me the best candidate; I don't really care if they may vote to uphold Roe v. Wade"? Hell no. He'll do exactly what everyone on both sides expects, which is to locate the next Samuel Alito, someone who went to the best schools of course and has an admirable elite pedigree, but who also was nurtured within the conservative movement, someone who will make the right wing weep with joy. During his confirmation hearings this prospective justice will say solemnly that he shouldn't comment on issues that might come before the Court, so he really can't comment specifically on Roe, but rest assured that he'll faithfully apply the Constitution and just call those balls and strikes, as John Roberts so memorably put it in his own hearings. Democrats will complain, most will vote against the nominee, but he'll be confirmed. And within weeks, a dozen lawsuits will be filed with the intention of forcing the Court to revisit Roe. Those cases will fly up the judicial ladder with all deliberate speed, and the four conservatives on the Court and their new colleague will finally get the opportunity they've been waiting for. And that will be that.