HE WAS FOR A LITMUS TEST BEFORE HE WAS AGAINST IT?…. A surprising amount of time was spent last night talking about abortion rights, arguably the first extended discussion of a culture-war issue we’ve seen in any of the debates.

For all the reasons Steven Waldman already noted, I think Obama clearly benefited more than McCain from the deliberation. But I thought McCain’s take on a judicial litmus test warrants some follow up.

Schieffer: Sen. McCain, you believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Sen. Obama, you believe it shouldn’t. Could either of you ever nominate someone to the Supreme Court who disagrees with you on this issue? Sen. McCain?

McCain: I would never and have never in all the years I’ve been there imposed a litmus test on any nominee to the court. That’s not appropriate to do…. I believe strongly that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test.

As Ezra noted, McCain reportedly told at least one high-profile supporter something very different during his first campaign.

McCain beat George W. Bush in New Hampshire, in a nineteen-point upset, but the storybook campaign ended when the Bush machine retaliated, in the infamous South Carolina primary. McCain had hoped that South Carolina’s large veteran population would help him win there; but the Christian Coalition, deeply entrenched in the state, became the decisive constituency. Somewhat surprisingly, McCain had the support of Gary Bauer, the social conservative, who had dropped out of the race by that time. “I wanted a commitment from either George Bush or John McCain that if elected he would appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court,” Bauer told me. “Bush said he had no litmus test, and his judges would be strict constructionists. But McCain, in private, assured me he would appoint pro-life judges.”

As far as I can tell, neither McCain nor anyone associated with him made an effort to correct this report.

Bauer continues to be a relatively common fixture in political circles; perhaps he could take a moment to elaborate on “assurances” McCain made eight years ago.

Was McCain for a litmus test before he was against one?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.