During and immediately after the 2012 election cycle, some Republican politicians and pundits called on the GOP to abandon the issue of abortion, labeling it a political loser. In early 2011, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels notoriously called for a “truce” on abortion – a plea Senator John McCain immediately echoed after the election. In a nationally syndicated op-ed, Washington lobbyist Victoria Toensing, a pro-choice Republican, declared: “As a political matter, being pro-life has not helped Republicans.”
The problem with these claims is twofold: First, the GOP’s 2012 election strategy proved that a “truce” on abortion does not work. Second, the hard data shows that pro-life candidates enjoy an incremental advantage over pro-choice candidates.
Let’s take a look at the data first.
In the weeks prior to the election, Gallup polling revealed that for 17 percent of all voters, abortion is a ”threshold” issue – that is, one in six Americans will not vote for a candidate who doesn’t share their view on abortion. Of that 17 percent of voters, a nine percent segment say they are pro-life and will only vote for a pro-life candidate; a seven percent segment says the opposite--that they are pro-choice and will only vote for a pro-choice candidate. That’s a two percent net advantage for a pro-life candidate over a pro-choice candidate. In a razor-thin race, this advantage can make all the difference.
Gallup has explored this effect in every presidential election year since 1996.Each time the results have shown that pro-life presidential candidate enjoys at least a two-point net advantage over the pro-choice candidate. In 2004, Gallup recorded a seven-point pro-life net advantage, a year in which the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, was not shy of talking about his pro-life convictions on the campaign trail. The Bush campaign also spent significant resources going after the pro-life vote on the ground in key battleground states.
For those still unconvinced, let’s explore how the “truce” a la Gov. Daniels works out – with the 2012 election being the case study.
During the 2012 election cycle, the pro-abortion lobby and the Democratic Party created a “War on Women” narrative. Whenever Governor Romney or other major GOP candidates were challenged on these claims, they responded with a de facto truce – refusing to engage and instead issuing a canned countercharge that the Obama economy was bad for women.
This strategy emboldened Democratic candidates and operatives, knowing they would never be questioned on their extreme abortion agenda – abortion on-demand, for any reason, up to the moment of birth, paid for by the taxpayer. At every opportunity, they framed the debate within the context of either rape or contraception. Because of their refusal to engage, Republicans allowed the Democrats to frame the debate – leaving Republicans on perpetual defense. Since when is silence a strategy? You cannot win a war in which you don’t engage.
This defensive strategy from the outset left major GOP candidates unprepared to deter or handle the tough questions on abortion, with Todd Akin being the prime example. Republican pro-life candidates must do a better job at clearly articulating what it means to be pro-life – even in the most difficult cases – with compassion and love. More importantly candidates must be prepared to go and stay on offense by engaging the other side, pointing out their extreme policies on abortion and conscience rights.
Protecting babies who survive abortions, ending the gruesome practice of late-term abortion, banning sex-selective abortions carried out purely because the child is the “wrong” gender, stopping taxpayer funding of abortion, ending taxpayer subsidies to America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood – these are the grounds on which abortion is being fought today. We can now add to them the need to protect religious institutions and business owners of conscience from having to pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations for all their employees. These are the real issues — unlike the phony “war on contraception”— that are actually being debated in Washington and in state legislatures across the country. And these are issues in which 60-80 percent of Americans back the pro-life position and the candidates who espouse them. This is where the debate must be centered.
The Democratic Party and pro-abortion lobby understand that abortion is a losing issue for them. A September 2012 Politico article detailing their strategy led with this: “Democrats think they’ve figured out how to win the abortion debate: Don’t make it about abortion.” A de facto truce allows them to do exactly that, and therefore will never work to restore Republican fortunes.
Moving forward, Republicans should return to fundamentals. What are the fundamentals of a winning Republican strategy? They are what Ronald Reagan called the three legs of the policy stool -- social policy, economic freedom, and national security – with the GOP standing firmly on each one. One wobbly leg – as we saw in the 2012 election – will not hold up..
Luckily, the “rising stars” in the GOP – unlike Senator McCain and Governor Daniels – seem to get it.
Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan gave the most articulate and compassionate defense of the pro-life position to be televised during this election cycle. Just this week, Senator Marco Rubio affirmed his believe that life begins at conception, saying, “I wish there were more folks in this town who were deeply committed to science and . . . would not ignore that scientific fact…Science has definitively established life begins at conception.”
The SBA List will be doing its part to ensure that candidates are better equipped to defend their pro-life position eloquently and strategically attack the Democratic Party’s extreme abortion agenda.
Moving forward, we refuse to let any of our endorsed candidates go out to the battlefield unprepared. We’re also renewing our commitment to recruiting more women to run for office, as they are the strongest messengers.
The facts are on our side. Science is on our side. Not only is defending Life and protecting women the right thing to do, the data shows that it is a political winner. If the Republican Party hopes to win another national election, they must re-embrace it. Now is the time for a return to the fundamentals of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – the first among these being Life.