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Republicans taking the bait on the contraception issue?

In the cover story for Newsweek, Andrew Sullivan argues Obama's compromise offer on the birth control and religious freedom controversy has "set a trap for the right":

The more Machiavellian observer might even suspect this is actually an improved bait and switch by Obama to more firmly identify the religious right with opposition to contraception, its weakest issue by far, and to shore up support among independent women and his more liberal base. I've found by observing this president closely for years that what often seem like short-term tactical blunders turn out in the long run to be strategically shrewd. And if this was a trap, the religious right walked right into it.

As I noted in my spiked article on this issue, the standard liberal response is to deny there is anything to debate regarding religious freedom, and to say this is entirely about birth control - and that the bishops and social conservatives are on the wrong side of the vast majority of people in being against birth control.

If the conservatives take the bait and start arguing against contraception per se, rather than for religious freedom, then yes, as Sullivan predicts, Obama will win. Just as I mention in my article how Obama doesn't want the Democrats to be portrayed in culture war terms, so too will conservatives suffer in the eyes of independents if they are seen as culture warriors for old-style morality. And in the past few days it appears, as Alana Goodman writes in a  post for Commentary, "the Republicans are losing control of the contraception debate". In particular, if the face of Republican opposition on this point is Rick Santorum - and watching the media coverage this morning, that seemed to be the case - then the Republicans will lose. As Goodman notes, "Rick Santorum's long-time opposition to birth control, and his newfound prominence in the primary race, has also helped Democrats take hold of the narrative, by presenting them with the perfect 'anti-contraception' boogeyman."

But this topic still holds out risks for Obama and the Democrats. If there is a lingering view from this controversy that Obama quashed religious freedom and his healthcare plan is too interfering and controlling, then he could lose support not just from religious conservatives, but some independents and the white working class - constituencies he needs, but has trouble securing support from.

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