Soft Chewy Centers

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.

9 thoughts on “Soft Chewy Centers

  1. Could happen. Abortion is a deal-breaker to only a fraction of its supporters; other considerations could loom larger. For example, a second large-scale terrorist attack might spook the voters into electing a strong man who is incidentally also a hard-line abortion-is-murder guy. We’ve just had an object lesson on how fear and shock can push Americans into choosing political extremists..

    You do understand that the _hard_ core fetus people aren’t just after Roe, right? They’re after Griswold v. Connecticutt too — the decision that keeps states from interfering with women’s right to contraceptive services. Margaret Sanger had to win that battle first.

  2. Firmly and adamantly anti-choice….not if he is pressed on the details. The detail of punishment. The anti choice candidate must be made to explain why the woman getting the abortion goes to jail or why she gets no punishment at all.

  3. Certainly, I can see all kinds of ways an anti-choice candidate could get elected, but I guess what I’m asking is how much of a factor abortion by itself really is.

    We’ve had years of “conventional wisdom” declaring that abortion is a “problem” for Democrats, but I think that’s true only because being anti-choice hasn’t been a big enough problem for Republicans. And I wonder — assuming no other big issue swallowed the campaign — if a conservative candidate made criminalizing abortion a prominent plank in his campaign, leaving no doubt that he intended to end legal abortion in America, would this not hurt him more than help him? Would it not scare off more people than it drew in?

    Note that until now we haven’t had a real true hard-line activist anti-abortion president. Even Reagan was all talk, no walk.

    I’m also suggesting the answer to the Dem’s abortion “problem” is not for them to get squishy and move right, but to more aggressively attack the anti-choice position. As you say, the extremists in the movement are also against legal birth control, and they are definitely in the minority regarding stem cell research and end of life issues, a la Terri Schiavo.

  4. Right now I just don’t know what the outside limit is on what the MSM’s top gatekeepers will accept from the GOP nominee, just so long as he induces a squirmy crush. I’m not sure there is a limit: Matthews, MoDo, Broder … all of them will enthusiastically embrace whoever the GOP nominates. Rudy’s pro-choice and wears dresses? That’s great! Romney wants double Guantanamo? That’s great! It just doesn’t matter — they hate the Democrats and want what they’ve known for a generation, i.e., a big tough manly GOP cop in charge.

    And remember, we haven’t seen how far to the right Thompson will go to pander to the base. He knows: as far as he thinks he needs to to win the nomination is OK. Chris Matthews’ pulse will still race when he speaks.

  5. Really, really interesting question. It’s one of those issues that a lot of people will say they’re against, since they’re upstanding Christian Americans who would never, etc., etc. Besides, it’s icky.

    But on the micro side, we know the statistics. Everyone who’s ever had an abortion, everyone who’s ever paid for their daughter/sister/girlfriend to have one, every guy who feels the guilty relief of not having to worry about it, all of them make up a pretty big plurality. And then there are the people who believe in women’s autonomy.

    We Americans have proven ourselves to be pretty stupid, and I have no reason to believe we wouldn’t be that stupid again. What I think is that abortion would be outlawed, and nine months to one year later, another, maybe better law would be instituted. It would just be too embarrassing for all those church deacons and corporate execs, not to mention too expensive.

  6. Geez, if abortions were actually made illegal, the GOP would have to let go of their security blanket. I don’t think the party bosses would allow anybody to ‘resolve’ a perennially perfect issue that keeps on ticking to motivate a solid core base at election times.

  7. I think it’s merely one more of those issues that the GOP uses to keep dividing up the electorate so they can win. Honestly, would ANYONE other than rich, white males vote for the GOP if they truly understood what they REALLY did?

  8. No. A rabid anti-abortionist candidate would be out of step with mainstream America. They could only justify their anti-abortion stand by painting themselves as a screaming Fundie. The majority of Americans do have a belief in God, but are moderate in pushing their beliefs on others. Remember the Terri Schiavo thing?…It was not well recieved by the American public because it was percieved as interjecting religious beliefs into the public domain. Pandering?

  9. I almost commented yesterday that it seems odd to me that anyone could say that a pro-choice Republican is unelectable. Aren’t there polls indicating that something like 70% of the American people are okay with Roe v. Wade? It’s really only a very vocal minority of Americans who are clamoring for an abortion ban. I staunchly anti-choice candidate, one who made that the whole focus of his campaign, would turn a lot of people off, is what I think.

    I think bigger things will weigh on the minds of voters in 2008, anyway; the war and maybe also health care will be far more crucial issues. And I think 9/11 is still a factor; that’s the only thing I can think of that explains Giuliani’s continued popularity.

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