This is a follow up to the last post that I started to add in the comments, but this is a good discussion question. So here’s a new post.
The question is: Other issues aside, do people think a TRUE anti-choice presidential candidate could win the general election? By that I mean someone who persuades the public he MEANS IT when he says he’s going to see to it that abortion is criminalized.
Republicans in the past got away with being anti-choice because the only ones who believed they would really outlaw abortion were the minority against abortion. As campaigners, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II (initially) were able to persuade the faithful that they were really against abortion, while winking at everyone else that they really weren’t against abortion.
I don’t remember abortion being an issue in presidential politics until after Roe v. Wade in 1973. The next presidential election was in 1976, Ford v. Carter. I don’t remember if Gerald Ford made any statements about abortion, but Betty called Roe “a great decision.” Essentially, both candidates that year were perceived to be pro-choice, as I remember.
Reagan ran against abortion, but it was well known that as governor of California he had signed a liberal abortion law, and whatever he thought of the bill he didn’t fight it. And then as President he took no action to stop abortions, and two of his three Supreme Court appointees supported Roe v. Wade. This tended to lull the public into the complacent belief that presidential candidates might talk about ending abortion, but they wouldn’t really do it if they got elected.
George H.W. Bush had supported abortion rights when he ran for the GOP nomination in 1980. He had lines about the “sanctity of life” in his speeches during the 1988 campaign, but I don’t think many people outside the anti-choice movement took him seriously. He made just enough anti-choice noises to get the anti-choice vote, but he wasn’t so strongly ideological about it that he frightened away moderates. And, anyway, Bar clearly was pro-choice and didn’t care who knew about it.
As president Poppy vetoed some bills that would have provided Medicaid funding to pay for abortions, and of course he appointed Clarence Thomas to the SCOTUS. I don’t think this registered with the general public at the time as a threat to Roe v. Wade.
Being pro-choice didn’t seem to hurt Bill Clinton get elected twice.
Finally we get to Dubya, and in 2000 he did a grand job with the mixed signal thing, too. While he was out making speeches about stopping abortion, all those Republican women were all over radio and television winking at voters that it was OK; he really didn’t mean it. And I think by then a lot of people assumed Roe v. Wade was written in stone, so abortion wouldn’t be outlawed, no matter what the president said.
But now we’ve had two anti-choice SCOTUS appointments and the PBA law is, I assume, in effect. Do you think the Republican Party will get away with making promises to one side while winking at the other any more? And if a Republican presidential candidate is firmly and adamantly anti-choice, could he win a general election? I’m sure he’d lose most of the northeastern states, but I can’t speak to the rest of the country.
Update: See Jeff Feldman for another perspective.