Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Pro-Lifers And The GOP

Some scattered thoughts,

1.  This isn't news, but the Human Life Amendment is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.  Any Republican presidential candidate who makes that their abortion policy and makes that policy a centerpiece of their campaign is really hurting their chances of getting elected, and even if they do get elected, the Amendment will not pass Congress. Focusing on the Human Life Amendment as an immediate goal is worse than just bad electoral politics.  It is a waste of pro-life energy that, if it were better directed, could lead to better policy outcomes and better position pro-lifers to make future gains.  This does not necessarily mean changing the Republican platform, but it would mean the Republican presidential candidate might avow that they won't pursue policies that they are not convinced have majority support.

2.  Pro-lifers should not let themselves get taken for granted.  There are commitments that pro-lifers can demand without hurting either the Republican Party's or the pro-life movement's prospects.  At minimum, pro-lifers should expect that the President would pursue popular abortion restrictions (especially on public subsidies) and commit to judicial appointments that move the abortion issue out of Anthony Kennedy's head and into elected legislatures.  They should also expect a Republican nominee that can, when asked, make a principled pro-life argument - even if it is not central to that candidate's message. One might argue that the assertion of pro-life principles by the Republican presidential nominee will repulse some voters.  Maybe, but how many voters that were gettable by Republicans will be repulsed by the mere knowledge that the Republican candidate is a pro-lifer?  Probably alot fewer than the pro-lifers who will stay home when they see that there are zero pro-lifers among the two major party candidates

3.  For coalitional and demographic reasons, Republicans will have to maximize turnout among their base, win over white persuadables who don't self-identify as conservative, and make some marginal gains among Latinos and Asians.  The politics of abortion will be secondary, but can be nontrivial in both mobilizing social conservatives and making some gains among nonconservatives.  A combination of an incremental, majority-supported policy agenda and a focus on the abortion extremism of the national Democrats and President Obama personally could be a vote winner if Republicans also have a winning economic agenda and message.

4.  Republicans have not been losing because of abortion.  The one time during the last campaign that abortion came up in a big way (during the Rick Warren thing), the tactical advantage went to McCain.  During the financial crisis, not so much.

5.  Abortion is the easy part.  Crafting an abortion message and policy agenda that can mobilize social conservatives while minimally alienating persuadables who were not committed pro-lifers is something Republicans have been doing for thirty years.  I think they could do a little better, but it is the least of their problems.  Crafting a positive winning message on market-oriented health care will be much harder and this is an area in which Republicans have very little history of political success.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 11 Comments

While there is nothing specifically I would quarrel with in your comments, Pete, I detect an air of condescension which is unbecoming. Certainly abolitionists were a fringe group, in more ways than one, but those who opposed slavery in principle and the spread of slavery in practice, were not on the fringe in any sense--unless one is to credit the scathing denunciations heaped upon them by Democrats north and south who refused to make a distinction between opposing slavery's spread and calling for its abolition. Similarly, the first, and perfectly understandable, reaction of Americans who value life at all stages of development, was to seek reversal of Roe v. Wade. That infamous decision, akin to Dred Scott v. Sanford in every important respect, has managed to survive its detractors' onslaughts for 37 years, a lot longer than Dred Scott survived, although a lot less time than slavery existed in North America before it was abolished. The pro-abortion regime is as vile and murderous as it ever was, which much of the nation has long grown accustomed to, when it paid any attention at all. We have been governed by a decision involving two parties to a court case that has metastasized into a political sacred cow---"a super precedent" as some have called it.

Nevertheless, pro life groups have worked tirelessly and patiently to educate the public, eschewing the violence that is so often the fallback position of the Left, pricking at the abortion regime's weakest points, beginning with its blanket ban on any restrictions whatsoever, seeking parental consent for minors' abortions, highlighting the horrors of partial-birth abortion, seeking justice for unborn children as well as their mothers when murdered, requiring ultra sound and other information before permitting abortion, etc.

Pro lifers almost invariably vote for candidates who favor fiscal conservatism, strong national defense and the rule of law, while being taken for granted by those indifferent to the fate of aborted children, who threaten to bolt if a candidate betrays a genuine pro life position. No one in his senses denies that governments at all levels are spending money they do not have, and that includes pro lifers. What can we say when people who presumably are in their senses look the other way as 50 million babies were violently murdered in their mothers' wombs over nearly four decades? Reminding pro lifers politely to stay to one side while the real issues of politics are dealt with is akin to what our forbears did in ante bellum days, viz., ignoring the tornado approaching. Lincoln said that there was a moral economy in the universe, that the sins of slaveholders and their apologists were ultimately paid for. As we allow the war against the laws of nature and of nature's God to continue unchecked, should we not be as mindful of Lincoln of the price for delaying the justice that our human posterity deserves?

Richard, I am a lousy judge of my own tone, but there isn't alot in your comment that I disagree with. I don't think it is either right or smart politics for the Republicans to expect pro-lifers to put their policy agenda entirely aside until this, that, or the other things happens. But I also thiink that advancing pro-life policies will be tricky and, for the foreseeable future, frustrating and incremental at best and that a Republican presidential candidate who both focuses on abortion too much (politically that is) or advances too ambitious an abortion agenda can make it more likely that we will continue to have a radically pro-abortion President after January 2013.

I have very few worries that the 2012 Republican presidential candidate will make abortion the centerpiece of their campaign. No Republican presidential candidate ever has. If it were up to me, the Republican presidential candidate would talk (somewhat) more about abortion (though focusing somewhat more on incremental policy changes, constitutionalism, and the radicalism of the Obama administration. Thats why I found Daniels' comments so frustrating and self-destructive, as well as wrong on the substance.

Speaking of the radicalism of the Obama Administration, remember that the Dems' attempt to fund abortion got thwarted in the House last fall, and got iincluded in the winter only because of an empty promise of an executive order banning the funding. Abortion is not a loser for us when it's tied to public funding. Plus Obama favors a bill to remove all existing restrictions on abortion. That offends most people who accepted Roe only because they never imagined it would be so "abused." Of course, it mandated abortion on demand. Republican candidates can be full throated about these things and not lose very many, if any, votes.

I agree and only wish Mitch Daniels did too. I also think Obama knows that he is politically vulnerable on aspects of the abortion issue and counts his lucky stars that McCain was never willing to exploit this weakness.

Well and good. Would a Republican candidate self destruct if he or she were as candid about the evils of abortion on demand as Lincoln was on the evils of slavery?

It would not bother Republicans at all. It is those who are not Republicans, but might be on account of other issues who are the concern of someone running for national office. Yes?

However, being as clear as Lincoln, as you put it, did Reagan good, not harm. I cannot help thinking that now, when people are so sick of muddling politicians, that clear statements, especially of principle, would be welcome. I think most people would love a little clarity. At least I know I would.

Richard, to the extent that you mean being able to explain why they believe abortion is taking a human life, sure. They should be able to explain their pro-life view in a human rights-oriented framework. Thats one big reason why I think it is important to nominate an incrementalist constitutionalist, pro-lifer rather than a moderate pro-choice, anti-ROE, constitutionalist (what Giuliani pretended to be in 2008). To the extent it means that the Republican presidential candidate makes abortion their first or second most important campaign issue, they won't self-destruct, they just make it much harder on themselves to get elected President, and make it more likely that a pro-abortion President will continue to nominate pro-ROE judges.

I'm Anonymous. Sorry.

Kate, we are on the same page.

Anonymous (PS?) How do we make the case for appointing prolife judges if we remain silent about he issue of abortion during the campaign? Was LIncoln imprudent for clarifying his political principles? What is ate virtue of a stealth strategy if we mean to slow down the abortion express? So far the stealth strategy has not gained us a Supreme Court majority that would overrule Roe. Meanwhile, the abortion mills grind on. As long as the political forum is dominated by pro choice (pro abortion) talk, there is little or no chance that public opinion will embrace placing limits on abortion. We cannot give up the debate and expect to make gains. Is abortion an evil, an utter rejection of America's founding principles, or is a a petty annoyance that gets people riled up unnecessarily?

What is THE virtue

is IT a petty annoyance

Richard, I think there is a distinction to be made between you and me and the pro-life movement on one hand, and a prospective Republican nominee on the other. I am all for a Republican candidate who can make an eloquent pro-life case, but there is also the fact that most surveys seem to rank abortion as not a high priority issue (though not a meaningless issue) for many Americans. A Republican presidential nominee that does not take this into account would doom himself (or herself). That does not mean giving up the debate, it does mean that how much of the debate that can be reasonably carried by a pro-life Republcian presidential candidate who has a chance of being elected during an economy-driven political environment is limited. I have some ideas (unoriginal I have no doubt) about how pro-lifers could advance the public argument, but a Republican presidential candidate who affirms their beliefs, is able to explain the pro-life argument, and will use their President's powers (especially the appointment power) to move abortion back into the legislative arena, is the best that pro-lifers can realistically hope for in the foreseeable future.

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