After Mitt Romney's defeat at the hands of President Obama, the GOP is trying to figure out what hit them. A president who has overseen a bad economy, an unpopular overhaul of the health care system, and two stunning disasters (and ensuing coverups) in which the administration's mismanagement resulted in the deaths of Americans (Benghazi and "Fast and Furious") should have been easy to defeat. Or that's what Republicans thought. And he won.
It's easy to critique mis-steps in the Romney presidential campaign. Armchair quarter-backs never throw interceptions. There was the 47% comment, the self-deportation comment, the too-combative tone here, and the too-conciliatory tone there. But were there deeper problems--fundamental positions Romney held that were simply rejected by voters? Was the fatal flaw Romney's pro-life position, or even the broader pro-life position of the Republican Party as a whole?
Dan Calabrese thinks so
In a winnable red state Senate race, Missouri's Todd Akin makes an
astoundingly stupid statement about rape and pregnancy. He is toast. In
just-as-red Indiana, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock makes a slightly
more defensible but still incredibly stupid statement about rape and
pregnancy. It ultimately costs him the race, and all the conservative
triumphalism over the primary takedown of Richard Lugar turns to
gnashing of teeth as the seat flips to the Democrats.
Was the presidential election a referendum on abortion?
Why did these fiascos occur? They occurred because the standard
Republican position on abortion, while admirably principled, becomes
almost impossible to defend when a skilled and determined questioner
starts drilling down into the details. Ask a pro-life Republican what
kind of prison sentence they would recommend for a woman who gets an
abortion? Good luck getting a clear and confident answer. Rape and
incest? I'm with you when you say that God still loves that baby, but
get into the details of how you enforce the law that forces the woman to
carry the child to term when she doesn't want to? It's a disastrous
debate moment just waiting to happen....
How, then, might Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock have answered that
question about rape and pregnancy if not hogtied by the right-to-life
movement to find some way to defend an all-encompassing abortion ban?
Maybe like this:
"Rape is an unspeakable evil, and I cannot imagine the anguish of a
woman who finds herself pregnant as a result of being raped. Now, do I
believe the child conceived as a result or rape is loved and valued by
God? Yes. Do I believe that child deserves death? No. Any woman in that
circumstance who would choose to bear that child and give birth would be
a hero in my eyes, and should be a hero in everyone's eyes. But as far
as the law is concerned, there is no way we will ever see a political
consensus in favor of a law that would force such a woman to make that
choice, and I have no intention of trying to create one."
The Obama campaign tried to make it a referendum on contraception and abortions for rape victims, using the "War on Women" rhetoric. Romney of course never opposed contraception at all, nor abortion in rape cases, yet the rhetoric of his opponents implied he was an anti-contraception Catholic who wanted to ban it for everybody. Calabrese's advice wouldn't help Romney. Romney already followed it and still lost.
The fatal problem for Republicans Tuesday appears to be that they were unable to mobilize their conservative base. Rush Limbaugh said
We didn't lose the election on Tuesday because we're pro-choice or
pro-life; we did not lose the election because single women hate us and
don't like us. That's not why we lost. We might not be getting a
majority of those votes, but when three million of our own people don't
show up, it doesn't matter who on the Democrat side we're not getting.
Abortion wasn't the key issue that kept conservatives home.
Romney failed to convince conservatives that he would reduce the size
and scope of government significantly. He spent more time in the debates
telling the American people all the programs for which he was going to
preserve or increase funding, and many conservatives felt his vision was
a more fiscally-responsible implementation of socialist policies than
the president's implementation, but not a fundamentally conservative
Independent (former Republican) voter Jody Luck wrote on her Facebook page
[N]o one president or politician is going to be able to reverse
the laws already in place. It is a non-winnable issue in the short
term. By even engaging in these discussions, we merely open up
politicians to be attacked by “the others.” When conservative
politicians are asked about their pro-life stance, the clear answer
should be that it is already the law of the land and not within the
presidential scope of power to change it. I have heard several
commentators this political season remark that instead of the
Republicans forcing the focus to be on the economy, they allowed the
Democrats to continually turn the focus on “women’s rights.” I honestly
believe that conservatives did lose votes on this point.
Again, this is an issue that should be
legislated since it does do measurable harm to another person, however,
it is not within any one politician’s scope to correct it, so to lose an
election over this point seems short-sighted. It’s a
process. We need conservative representatives in place so that when a
conservative president is elected, he is free to appoint and have
approved, conservative judges.
While Luck is right that no politician can abolish abortion in the short term, she is wrong about candidates needing to disengage from the issue or downplay it.
First, if we elect politicians who don't make their pro-life position clear, it will be a non-issue, and there will be no political progress, because politicians know that we, the pro-life voters, don't expect anything from them on this issue.
Second, if a Republican presidential candidate abandons the pro-life message, the pro-life voters will stay home or vote third-party. The Whigs tried that on the slavery issue, and that's why the Whig Party is in the history books, and the Republican Party is alive today.
Third, one politician (particularly the president) can take at least one significant step to fight abortion by cutting funds to Planned Parenthood, and Romney pledged to do that.
Fourth, conservatives lost votes on the abortion issue not because
they were pro-life, but because they allowed their opponents to define
So how should pro-life candidates define the issue in a way that is truthful and convincing?
Calabrese is right that anyone who takes a principled pro-life stand
needs clear, medically-accurate, reasonable, and compassionate answers.
Pro-life candidates need to turn the debate back from the hard cases
like rape/incest/fetal anomaly to where the law is, and go on offense. "I believe all life
is sacred, regardless of the circumstances of conception, but my
opponent wants abortion to be legal as a method of birth control through
all three trimesters, and he even supported the barbaric practice or
shouldn't hang their heads and stand courageously as martyrs for an extreme cause. No.
Show how extreme the opposition truly is.
Don't let the debate
linger on the hard cases. Take it back to the majority of cases.
President Obama repeatedly criticized Romney for wanting to defund
Planned Parenthood, falsely claiming they perform mammograms. Romney
looked like the extremist and failed to demonstrate that Obama is the
real extremist, shoveling tax money to an organization that is
documented to cover up sexual abuse and sex trafficking; an organization
that urges minors to try group sex and other risky practices; an
organization that makes most of its money from killing babies; an
organization that was founded to control minority populations and still
kills a disproportionate number of black babies.
candidates get used to debating the minor differences with each other
in primaries, and when a pro-life candidate goes up against someone like
President Obama, he forgets that the issue is not the exceptional
cases. The issue is that the pro-abortion opponent thinks every baby
is fair game for the abortionist's suction machine and scissors. That's
To the extent that this election was a
referendum on abortion, it was ruined by candidates who failed to frame
the debate and allowed the opposition to incorrectly define the
differences in their positions.
Pro-life candidates must think through and defend their positions better, largely by going back on offense against the extremism of the pro-abortion position, but they must not abandon the pro-life cause. Doing so would be both moral cowardice and political suicide.
Wesley Wilson is the President of Let Me Live,
a nonprofit dedicated to saving babies by showing the beauty and
value of life to women considering abortion. Please learn more about
the Let Me Live pro-life billboard campaign. Donations are tax deductible.
Labels: abortion, Barack Obama, Election 2012, Mitt Romney, strategy