So yesterday, in the guise of compromise, the president doubled-down on his health insurance/contraception ploy. He has received almost universal condemnation from religious groups. We greeted the news by dismissing the president as more or less clueless. But we had also speculated a few days ago about political motivations behind the HHS ruling. This morning we are greeted with the first poll showing a national lead for Rick Sanotrum and that is causing me to rethink cluelessness and turn again to political calculation.
Barack Obama has managed to shift the conversation in Republican circles to social conservatism and religion – Mitt Romney’s weak flank. There seems to be near universal agreement that despite all this Romney will still be the nominee, but presuming that to be the case, he will now be a nominee that has had his weak flank come under intense fire. But the double-down makes me sense that Team Obama believes the initial attack to have been more successful than they calculated so they are pressing it in hopes of turning it into a killing blow.
Let’s face it, Obama’s disapprovals were so deep in the tank that they had nothing to lose. If this is an electoral gambit on Obama’s part it is a Hail Mary – but the man desperately needs a game changer. He has shown some skill at game-changing in his defeat of Hillary.
So what’s Romney to do, and more importantly, what are Republicans to do? Our odds at the White House and at Congress are much lower with a nominee other than Romney.
Well, for one thing the House has to pass legislation to block this ruling – and do it now. No, of course it will never see the light of day in the Senate, but it is time to pull a Gingrich -pass it and then make every possible effort to make the Senate look bad with it. This will serve to move the fight off the presidential stage – it will give the various religious groups a useful place to focus their energy. Romney’s huge excess in congressional endorsements has been trumpeted and trumpeted again – it’s time for them to get busy. The Republican delegations in both houses stand to win with this issue.
Secondly, it has to be very clear that Romney made the calls to those congressional endorsers asking for this legislation. Santorum can breath fire and whip the crowds, but Romney will be the guy that got something done and people have got to know that. Managing the press on this will not be easy, they’ll not want the news to get out.
Thirdly, Romney has got to take some high-level meetings with Catholic officialdom. He can make it plain he is not going in to seek endorsement, but rather to hear about their issues with the ruling so that he will well prepared to act upon election. Yes, I know, his already promised waivers would probably handle the issue – not the point – he has to be seen working this specific issue.
Next, Romney’s very strong team of religious endorsers and surrogates has got to get very public – maybe even put together a Super PAC for precisely this issue.
There is also something very delicate that might help. No religious group in America understands government seizure of practice better than the Mormons. Bringing up polygamy is problematic, not only because most people find it abhorrent, including Mormons now, but also because Mormons changed the practice to join the nation. Subtlety is not my strong suit, and this requires enormous subtlety, but I cannot help but think that there is something helpful in here somewhere.
And then Romney has to work hard to return the discussion to Obama, and not just this ruling by Obama. This ruling is just one example of numerous examples where Obama has shoved things down the throat of the American public. Romney needs to shove back. In this case it is not about the issue, it is about the style. Romney needs to seek to broaden this issue to make it about Obama’s governance by fiat generally.
Finally, the punditry needs to see this for what there is at least a strong case to be made that it is – Obama mucking about in internal Republican politics. And worse, using the power of the office to do so. The punditry do not need to endorse a specific candidate to do this, they need only point to the simple facts we opened this post with – Obama makes a ruling and the Republican race shifts. Do we really want him making our decisions for us? That’s the point that needs to be made, over and over and over.