Indiana Senate aspirant Richard Mourdock has put his Republican colleagues in a bind, none more so than Mitt Romney. Like fellow GOP Senate hopeful Rep. Todd Akin in nearby Missouri, Mourdock made an ill-received comment about rape and abortion — "I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen" — potentially costing the GOP not only a win but control of the Senate. But unlike with Akin, Romney recently endorsed Mourdock in a TV ad and continues to back him. "We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest but still support him," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Wednesday. President Obama's re-election team and other Democrats are hammering Romney over this, and his continued support of Mourdock could hurt him with the much-coveted suburban women both campaigns are courting. So why has Romney stuck by Mourdock? Here, five theories:
1. Romney doesn't share Mourdock's views
What do a few "weird comments coming from one candidate for a down ticket office" have to do with Romney, former California GOP chairman Ron Nehring asks Politico. Nothing. Unlike Mourdock, Romney backs abortion exceptions for rape and incest. Case closed. Yes, "Mourdock will and should pay a price for this" foolish detour into theology, but Romney shouldn't and won't, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. Romney has noted the differences in their abortion policies; "I don't expect he'll have anything to say further, and if he does, he's nuts." Just because Obama wants to focus on "trivial, gotcha moments" doesn't mean the rest of us have to play along.
2. Abandoning Mourdock would be self-defeating
The list of high-profile Republicans backing away from Mourdock is growing — notables include Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Scott Brown (Mass.), Dean Heller (Nev.), and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), plus Rep. Mike Pence, who's running for governor of Indiana — but there's no upside for Romney in disowning the candidate, says Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. Thanks to the TV endorsement, Mourdock is already pretty closely tied to Romney, adds Alexander Burns at Politico, and every prominent Republican who criticizes Mourdock makes it "harder for the Indiana treasurer to get his campaign back on track and easier for Democrats to nationalize the controversy." Politically, it's smarter for Romney to keep calm and carry on.
3. Many Republicans agree with Mourdock
By continuing to endorse Mourdock while criticizing his rape comment, Romney is "trying to walk a delicate line — courting women voters while rousing a Republican base that is strongly anti-abortion," says Joel Connelly at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. After all, Mourdock's view that abortion should be allowed only when the mother's life is in danger is consistent with the party platform, as well as the view of Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). "Liberals seemed shocked by Mourdock's statement and his beliefs," says Amy Sullivan at The New Republic. "I was just shocked that anyone was shocked." All GOP politicians who oppose rape exceptions have their justifications, and as Todd Akin proved, Mourdock's is hardly the most scandalous.
4. And Mourdock's opponent essentially agrees with Romney
Republicans wasted no time pointing out that Mourdock's Democratic opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly, also opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and endangerment of the life of the mother — in other words, Romney's position, says The Washington Post's Blake. Not only that, but Donnelly was a co-sponsor of a House bill to deny abortion funding for rape and incest victims. As damaging as Mourdock's comment might be among women voters, "Republicans believe they can level the playing field — at least somewhat — by pointing to Donnelly's involvement in that controversial bill."
5. Republicans, and Romney, are stuck with Mourdock
One big difference between Romney's calling for Akin to exit the race and sticking with the Hoosier is that Romney just "endorsed Mourdock, with a special pitch from Paul Ryan," and reneging on that endorsement so quickly might be one flip-flop too many, says Kaili Joy Gray at Daily Kos. The other difference? Akin stuck his foot in his mouth in August; now, with the election "less than two weeks away, it's too late for the party to pull Mourdock from the race and find a replacement, and the Republicans, including Romney, are stuck with the guy."