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Ghost Of Mitt’s Moderate Past Haunts Again

If you’re Mitt Romney and the monthly jobs report comes out with surprisingly good news, what do you do? You change the subject. Instead of addressing the jobs report, the Romney campaign’s press release this morning attacked President Obama over his administration's decision to require large Catholic institutions—such as hospitals and universities—to comply with the new requirement that all large health plans cover contraception, a ruling that has upset even some liberal Catholics who see it as a needless affront. “What the Obama administration has done is indefensible,” read Romney’s statement, which ran as an op-ed in the Washington Examiner. “But this is about even more than President Obama denying America’s Catholics their constitutionally protected rights. This is about the preservation of our freedom. We must come together to make sure that these egregious violations of our Constitution do not stand.”

There’s just one problem. Also in this morning’s papers was a story by the Boston Globe’s Tracy Jan noting that Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, had upset Catholic authorities in 2005 by requiring that Catholic hospitals provide the morning-after pill to rape victims.

He said he was acting on his legal counsel’s interpretation of a new state law—one passed by lawmakers despite his veto—but he also said that “in his heart of hearts,’’ he believed that rape victims should have access to emergency contraception. 
Some Catholic leaders now point to inconsistency in Romney’s criticism of the president and characterize his new stance as politically expedient, even as they welcome it. 
“The initial injury to Catholic religious freedom came not from the Obama administration but from the Romney administration,’’ said C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. “President Obama’s plan certainly constitutes an assault on the constitutional rights of Catholics, but I’m not sure Governor Romney is in a position to assert that, given his own very mixed record on this.’’

It’s just one more reminder of how remarkable it is that a Republican Party hungry for a conservative stand against a president it sees as an overweening—and now anticlerical—liberal is on the verge of nominating someone so profoundly ill-suited for that role. As Philip Klein of the Examiner tweeted this morning: “With economic #’s improving, good thing GOP will nominate a candidate who can run a credible campaign against unpopular Obamacare. Oh, wait.”

follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis