Slate’s David Weigel helpfully compiled all the GOP candidates’ responses to the Rush Limbaugh controversy over the talk show host calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute." Slate noted that not one of the Republican candidates actually disagreed with Limbaugh’s basic point about health-care coverage of contraception, just with his language.
Here’s what the four candidates said:
Romney: “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.”
Gingrich: “I am astonished at the desperation of the elite media to avoid rising gas prices, to avoid the President’s apology to religious fanatics in Afghanistan, to avoid a trillion dollar deficit, to avoid the longest period of unemployment since the Great Depression, and to suddenly decide that Rush Limbaugh is the great national crisis of this week.”
Paul: “I had said he used very crude language, and I think he gets over the top at times. But it’s in his best interest. That’s why he did it. I don’t think he’s very apologetic. He’s doing it because some people were taking advertisements off his program. It was the bottom line that he was concerned about.”
Santorum: “He’s being absurd. But that’s, you know, an entertainer can be absurd. And - and he’s taking the absurd, you know, the absurd - absurd, you know, sort of, you know, point of view here as to how - how far do you go? And, look, he’s in a very different business than I am. I’m concerned about the public policy of this president imposing his values on the people on people of faith who morally object to - to the government telling them they have to do something which they believe is a grave moral wrong.”
Tellingly, the response that has come under the most fire is Romney’s. Democrats immediately singled out his response as ridiculously cautious - right after Romney made it, Obama advisor David Axelrod tweeted: “Wow. Profiles in Courage.”
And even some Republicans have suggested the moment was a missed opportunity for Romney - who has been criticized throughout the campaign for being unwilling to take unpopular positions.
“I think Mitt Romney missed a huge opportunity to show some strength, basically take on Rush Limbaugh, say this is not the kind of thing we want in our political discourse,” said GOP strategist Matthew Dowd on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I think the problem is, Mitt Romney, as we all know, is a bit risk averse.”
Likewise, on NBC’s Meet the Press, GOP strategist Mike Murphy agreed that Romney missed his chance for a “Sister Souljah” moment (as instances of candidates appearing to break with their party’s base have been called ever since Bill Clinton did so in 1992 by denouncing hip-hop star Sister Souljah for comments he deemed racist against whites). “It could have been and it should have been,” Murphy said. “This was an opportunity for Mitt to push back. Even Santorum, who said it was absurd, was a click or two tougher on him than Mitt was. And I thought it was a lost opportunity for his campaign.”
Decoder agrees that the whole flap seemed to present Romney with a rare chance to seem strong in his willingness to condemn a remark that nearly everyone has agreed is condemnable. But frankly, while his refusal to take on Rush may have disappointed many in the media, we’re not sure it was the wrong decision politically. Sometimes in politics, risks pay off. But more often, in this day and age, it’s caution that wins. Candidates who stay on script and on message - who don’t offend - are the ones who cross the finish line, while those who speak from the gut more often flame out.
On the eve of Super Tuesday - and the chance to perhaps finally seal the deal among conservative voters who have so far been wary of supporting him - condemning Limbaugh was evidently a risk Romney felt he simply could not take.
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