Earlier today, I made the case that Rick Santorum’s language has been intemperate of late. The problem for Mitt Romney is a different one: opportunism. I have in mind, among other things, last week’s debate, when Governor Romney, in criticizing Santorum, said, “Well, I’m looking at [Santorum's] historic record” — including “a whole series of votes. Voting to fund Planned Parenthood…” and more.
This charge is technically correct but incomplete. In fact, it creates an utterly false impression. Santorum voted for a large spending bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood, the kind of difficult and prudential judgment members of Congress are often forced to make. (It helps explain why long-serving members of Congress rarely win the presidency.) But that vote cannot obscure this fact: Santorum has been one of America’s most vocal champions for the pro-life cause, to the point that he opposes abortion even in the case of rape and incest, and we all know he would defund Planned Parenthood in a millisecond if he could have his way. On culture of life issues, Rick Santorum is among the least compromised of all politicians.
Beyond that, though, what makes the charge particularly unfair is that Romney, at one time in his career, strongly favored the right to an abortion, attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in 1994, and according to press reports, his wife Ann donated to Planned Parenthood. So to have Romney attack Santorum for being insufficiently pro-life is a bit much.
Romney has shifted his position on abortion, and I’m glad he has. But for him to portray Santorum as unprincipled on this issue strikes me as deeply unfair. It might work in a narrow tactical sense. But these attacks are dangerous for Romney, because they can easily reinforce a pre-existing impression, which is that there’s a shamelessness to Romney’s attacks that can be discrediting. (Trying to lay blame for Obamacare at the feet of Santorum is also a fairly brazen charge.)
There are plenty of arguments Romney can make on his own behalf, as well as criticisms he can level against Santorum. But Santorum being an ally of Planned Parenthood is an argument Romney really should stay away from.