In the aftermath of the second presidential debate, Democrats are attempting to reboot the “war on women” theme that was the keynote for President Obama’s re-election campaign during the spring and summer. That’s being driven in large part by Mitt Romney’s “binders of women” comment, but it was also the product of the exchange at Hofstra between the two about insurance coverage of contraception. The president slammed Romney for opposing universal coverage of contraception under his ObamaCare bill, while the Republican claimed he wanted to ensure full access to it for all women.
Democrats are claiming this is another example of the new “Moderate Mitt” that has replaced the “severely conservative” candidate that campaigned in Republican primaries, and to some extent they are right. Romney was telling the truth in that he clearly does not oppose denying access to contraception to anyone, nor does he think that “employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not.” But he passed on the chance to explain to voters how the ObamaCare mandate infringes on the religious freedom of religious institutions and individuals, since it forces them to pay for services that violate their consciences and their faith. This was just one of a number of flubbed opportunities to hit the president on issues where he is vulnerable on Tuesday, but it reinforced the impression that in his desire not to offend moderates and especially women voters, he is willing to abandon the principles he campaigned on up to this point. Given the stakes that might be understandable, but the Romney campaign ought not to confuse the need to portray the candidate as a reasonable person that women can trust with a less laudable desire to fudge the differences with Obama on important issues. Romney should be speaking more about religious freedom, not abandoning the issue to the president.
Far from a minor point, ObamaCare remains one of the key points at stake in this election. If the president is re-elected, the legislation will be fully implemented. Opponents of the bill, among whom Romney presumably numbers himself, believe that the president’s efforts to impose this mandate unconstitutionally infringes on our first freedom — religious liberty — and must be stopped. If it is implemented it will mark a turning point in which liberals will be able to redefine religious freedom in such a way as to restrict to it the home and the church, but to rout it out of the public square.
It is vital that Romney show himself not to be the monster that is shown in Democratic attack ads. The first debate was important because it was the first opportunity for many American women to take a good look at the Republican alongside the president. The boost in Romney’s popularity among women was far more the result of their favorable opinion of him than the president’s lackluster performance.
Maintaining that momentum among female voters doesn’t require Romney to backtrack on ObamaCare or religious freedom. To the contrary, these are issues that are as important to women as to men. The idea that free contraception is the issue on which the female vote will turn is a liberal myth. Women won’t be threatened by a discussion that centers on the rights of believers so long as he makes it plain that he isn’t interested in stopping anyone from doing what they want in their personal lives. Romney’s failure to explain his differences with the president on the issue won’t help him win the women’s vote, or anybody else’s for that matter.