ABC News:

Return of the Culture Wars: Can Mitt Romney Win Conservative Backing?

The resurgence of social and cultural issues in voters’ minds poses new challenges for GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney as he reels from surprising losses Tuesday to conservative favorite Rick Santorum.

The economy remains the No. 1 issue of concern for a majority of Americans. But the recent hoopla surrounding the Obama administration’s support of contraceptives, the court ruling against California’s same-sex marriage ban and heated debate about abortion access has created a perfect storm that has pushed these seemingly dormant issues to the surface….

Romney, meanwhile, has struggled to convince the Republican base of his conservative credentials. Most recently, he came under fire for allowing “abortion pills” as governor of Massachusetts. In 2005, Romney vetoed a law that required all Massachusetts hospitals, including those owned by religious groups, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims, but it was overridden by the state legislature….

First of all, I question the premise that there’s been a “resurgence” of these issues “in voters’ minds” — in Republican voters’ minds, maybe, but if so, that’s only because the Republican attack machine forced these issues onto the agenda by making lots of noise about them (contraception) or stirring up trouble where it didn’t exist (Planned Parenthood).

And what a genius thing to do: The Republicans had Romney, who a mere month ago was viewed by a significant majority of Republicans as an acceptable nominee and who at the same time was showing up in polls of the overall population as the most electable running against Obama, and — instead of continuing to stress arguments that played to his strengths — decided to gin up culture-war controversies in a way that inspires GOP base voters to reject Romney and vote for much more beatable candidates, like Santorum.

Republican message-mongers did this because they can’t walk away from anything that seems like a promising wedge issue — even if, as in this case, the short-term Democrat-bashing gain comes with a potential serious loss at the ballot box for their party in November.

I actually think, in the short term, the righties are going to win the contraception war — they’ve now made so much noise about this that low-information voters probably think Obama did something wrong, even though they can’t exactly tell you what it is. He’ll have to compromise or accept some GOP restraint. But meanwhile the right has stirred up the culture warriors just when they’re ready to rally around an extremely weak presidential candidate. Good one, GOP.

(X-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.)

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