"The more I think about it, and I know they deny it, I just don't believe George Stephanpolous's question on birth control wasn't coordinated," Erick Erickson, founder of the conservative blog RedState, tweeted Thursday.That was a few hours after Rick Santorum's billionaire backer Foster Friess made Twitter explode by saying "Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives -- the gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly." In just a few days, the Obama administration's decision to require religious institutions to cover birth control has gone from being seen as a breathtaking strategic blunder to evidence of a weeks-long insidious plot.
Last week, even Democrats were nervous the White House was screwing the decision up. "Why aren’t we messaging this better?," Sen. Barbara Mikulski demanded of President Obama's campaign manager, Politico reported. Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski sounded triumphant February 9, telling ABC News, "The reality is Democrats are starting to break from the president because he overstepped on a fundamental right we all believe in whether we are women, men, Republican or Democrat." The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz declared his own colleague Andrew Sullivan "wrong" for arguing that the contraception debate would help President Obama in the longterm. "The White House got killed on this issue last week," Kurtz said emphatically February 13. It was "a losing issue." But that conventional wisdom was already shifting under Kurtz's feet.
That morning, conservative blogger William Jacobson had speculated that when ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked a question about contraception during the January 7 debate, it was at the White House's request. "Everyone, at least on our side of the aisle, shook their heads in disbelief as to why Stephanopoulos was bringing up the issue." But a month later, it was relevant: "It’s almost as if Stephanopoulos got the memo first. Unless, of course, you believe in coincidences." That night, former Bill Clinton adviser Dick Morris accused Stephanopoulos -- a former Clinton staffer -- of being a "paid Democratic hitman."
SEAN HANNITY: You think he was doing this under direct orders?
MORRIS: Under orders... They want to create the impression that the Republicans will ban contraception, which is totally insane...
Rush Limbaugh picked up the idea the next day. "Do you remember -- 'cause this is a setup for what's coming -- do you remember, we were all perplexed here. George Stephanopoulos kept hounding Romney on contraception. It had not come up, nobody had said anything about it, and we were all confused, as was Romney, what the deal was. "
The idea that no one was talking about contraception is not true, however. Rick Santorum had said birth control was bad for women early in his presidential campaign, but perhaps no one biologically incapable of getting pregnant noticed. (Note: just like how, as the Atlantic Wire's Jen Doll points out, the contraception debate in Washington is all dudes, the contraception conspiracy debate online is all dudes, too.) Stephanopoulos' colleague Jake Tapper had asked Santorum about it that month, BuzzFeed points out.
But Morris continued with his crusade against Stephanopoulos Wednesday. "I was trying to figure out why Stephanopoulos was pushing like that. And I think he had been contracted by the Democrats to lay a hit on Romney," he told Bill O'Reilly. Limbaugh continued with the conspiracy theory Thursday, saying Stephanopoulos asked the question because "The design was they hoped Romney would say, 'Well, if the states want to,' they could then allude to the Republican front-runner suggesting that contraception be banned. Then they went out and they found an interview with Santorum where they can take him out of context and say that this is what he intends to do when he has not and did not say that." It's all part of the plan to distract voters from Obama's mishandling of the economy, Limbaugh said. Which is funny, considering just couple weeks ago The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol was arguing that Santorum might be the better Republican presidential candidate because he could make the election about more than "the economy, stupid." The fight between Planned Parenthood and the Komen foundation was "a very good wake-up call that the cultural issues remain pretty important to an awful a lot of Americans."