Apparently, Lisa Murkowski was unprepared for the impact of her voting for the rule to have employers dictate the health care choices of half the nation’s population.

Back from Washington, D.C., for the start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, the senator kept running into female voters who wrote in her name in the last election — moderate women who did not always vote Democrat or Republican. These women were coming unglued.

The reason: Murkowski’s support for a measure that would have allowed not just religious employers, but any employer, to opt out of providing birth control or other health insurance coverage required by the 2010 health-care law for moral reasons.

I called her office Friday looking for an interview but didn’t expect to get one. Then an email arrived from her account on Saturday, agreeing to meet me Sunday night at the Millennium Hotel.

We talked for 45 minutes. What Murkowski told me I already suspected. She’s a moderate. She supports abortion rights and contraception coverage. She also doesn’t line up completely with the Catholic Church when it comes to birth control. She regretted her recent vote.

“I have never had a vote I’ve taken where I have felt that I let down more people that believed in me,” she said.

Murkowski tried to retreat to a “religious freedom” argument, but I think that link has now been severed. Whatever religious freedom case conservatives wanted to make when putting the power of health care decisions in the hands of employers and taking them away from women has been thoroughly discredited. Murkowski almost certainly knew that at the time – she admitted to Julia O’Malley in this interview that the language was “overbroad” – and still voted for it.

Here’s what I never understand. Murkowski is never described as an independent. But she lost the Republican primary for Senate, only winning re-election with a write-in campaign. She was not the Republican nominee. But after the election, she folded herself right back into the Republican Party, to the point of aligning with them on this Blunt amendment vote. Now she’s suffering a huge backlash from precisely the voters who put her in office. Republicans didn’t like her enough to nominate her for Senate in 2010. And now moderates will never forgive her for trying to take away health care choice from women. Murkowski saying she wouldn’t vote for it again probably isn’t good enough.

And you wonder about the loss of faith in leaders and institutions.

David Dayen

David Dayen