Only a few days remain until the Republican National Convention, the moment when Mitt Romney and Republican Party purists are supposed to meet for a group hug on the world stage. It apparently won’t happen a moment sooner.
Earlier this week, Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy — and the ensuing fallout — highlighted the extreme policy preferences of many Republicans who want to limit the definition of rape and oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Meanwhile, Republican delegates in Tampa, Fla., enshrined those abortion views in the party’s platform, which as of Tuesday, calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion without any exceptions.
So how does Romney fit into all this? In an effort to absolve the GOP’s presidential nominee of some of his party’s actions, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus suggested Tuesday that while Romney leads the party, he is not beholden to its platform.
“This is the platform of the Republican Party,” Priebus said on MSNBC. “It’s not the platform of Mitt Romney.”
Priebus promised that the Republican ticket is pro-life, and dismissed the fact that all Republicans don’t agree on the “detail” of exceptions for an abortion ban.
Democrats, meanwhile, have no intention of allowing Romney off the hook for his party’s abortion plank, which they quickly dubbed the “Akin plank” in the wake of the firestorm over the congressman’s rape comments. On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz charged that the abortion plank “was written at the direction of the Romney campaign.”
Priebus flipped his own argument on its head, however, when asked about the Akin fiasco. He praised Romney for leading the Republican Party charge in urging Akin to exit the Senate race.
“Mitt Romney was leading the charge yesterday,” Priebus said.
But a timeline of events tells a different story.
Pressed on the fact that Romney had not yet explicitly call for Akin to step aside (which Romney did later Tuesday, after Priebus’s interview), Priebus doubled down: “I think it is pretty clear that Mitt Romney believes everything that Todd Akin said was unbelievably at odds with rational thinking. He led the charge. Everyone followed suit. We all followed Mitt Romney’s lead yesterday.”
On Sunday night after Akin’s comments surfaced, the Romney campaign issued a tepid, two-sentence response: “Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement,” a Romney campaign spokesperson said. “A Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
The following morning, Romney offered a more forceful condemnation of Akin’s comments after several Republican Senate candidates strongly rebuked Akin. But Romney still did not call for Akin to step aside. “Rep. Akin’s comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong,” Romney told National Review. “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”
Romney only called on Akin to step down at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, after virtually every leader of the party, starting with Sen. Scott Brown from Massachusetts, had already called on Akin to quit.
“As I said yesterday, Todd Akin’s comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,” Romney said in a statement distributed by his campaign. “Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”
As Romney himself put it, he’s deferring to the party’s judgement in this case.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.