So the Republicans have had a disappointing performance in the mid-term elections, and much of their political class—strategists, pundits, party leaders, donors—have their ready-made scapegoat: the pro-life cause that has always made many of them uncomfortable, even while they treat pro-life votes as their (sometimes unearned) entitlement.
Of course, Democrats and mainstream media, having seized on last June’s overturning of Roe v. Wade as a call to arms for their voters, are happy to attribute their better-than-expected showing to a pro-abortion surge.
And some Republicans are rushing to affirm that assertion to deflect attention from their many shortcomings and campaign failures—not least of which were their over-hyped expectations and constant internecine warfare, with the Trump base and the GOP establishment sometimes more focused on attacking each other than challenging their Democratic opponents.
Moreover, to the extent the abortion issue did hurt Republican candidates, it was due more to their inept handling of the issue—another perpetual GOP shortcoming—than to the pro-life position itself.
I wrote back in May that overturning Roe would not turn the tide of the midterms against Republicans unless they ran scared on the issue—and that’s exactly what many of them did.
Where they didn’t, they were not hurt by it. In Florida, stalwart pro-life Sen. Marco Rubio forcefully turned the charge of abortion extremism back on his Democratic opponent. Rubio was re-elected in a landslide.
And, in what it termed “an overlooked win for anti-abortion groups,” Politico reported that “In Ohio, three anti-abortion, Republican Supreme Court candidates sailed to victory, likely dooming efforts to challenge state abortion restrictions”; while “In North Carolina, two Republican wins give the court a conservative majority that could complicate Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s efforts to preserve access” to unrestricted abortion.
But too many Republican candidates refused to address the issue at all; leaving voters to erroneously conclude that they were the extremists their opponents claimed, and that they lacked the courage of their convictions—a turn-off even to voters not primarily concerned about abortion.
Abortion is being cited as a key factor in the defeat of Rep. Lee Zeldin in New York’s gubernatorial election, where Gov. Kathy Hochul pounded Zeldin’s pro-life Congressional record. But several facts belie the assertion.
Suburban women are said to be the centerpiece of the Democrats’ “pro-choice” base. Yet in four Democrat-held suburban Congressional districts, two on Long Island, two north of New York City, where the Democratic candidates echoed Hochul in campaigning on “abortion, abortion, abortion,” voters flipped all four districts to pro-life Republicans.
Zeldin ran much closer, losing by five per cent, than any statewide Republican candidate in New York over the last 20 years. That, combined with the failure of abortion to save any of those four suburban Democratic Congressional seats, suggests that something else was at work in Zeldin falling short.
Most probably, it was simply his inability to make significant inroads in New York City, the epicenter of the Democratic Party’s overwhelming registration advantage in the Empire State.
“The abortion attack didn’t work,” one “prominent New York Republican” emphasized to the New York Post. Instead, the unnamed “GOP bigwig” attributed Zeldin’s defeat to the Trump factor, which is also cited, with some plausibility, for GOP losses around the country.
Yet even that may be an oversimplification. Let’s not forget that by far the GOP’s biggest loser, among its Senate and gubernatorial candidates in competitive states, was Colorado’s Joe O’Dea, the Republican establishment’s hand-picked nominee who was outspokenly anti-Trump, and supported upholding Roe v. Wade.
Instead of blaming the pro-life cause for their lackluster performance, the Republican Party should be thanking pro-life voters, who in the face of the Democrats’ pro-abortion onslaught, stuck with often lukewarm pro-life Republican candidates who held them at arms-length. One cannot imagine, for example, the gun lobby remaining so loyal if the GOP treated them the way it treated pro-lifers this year.
Pro-lifers understand, after 50 years of Roe, that the road back to full legal protection for the unborn will still be long and arduous, advanced by incremental steps and varying from state to state. They will be patient, recognizing the political realities.
But they will not be manipulated, their votes demanded while their cause is downplayed, and even blamed for Republican political defeats rooted in the party’s own failures.
And one more consideration, articulated post-election by a Fox News panelist whose name unfortunately escapes me.
He pointed out that while the abortion issue may have benefited some Democrats in this year’s elections, long-term they may pay a price in alienating Latino voters—many of whom, as faithful Catholics or evangelical Christians, are pro-life.
That’s something for Republicans to keep in mind as well. They are excited about the significant shift of Hispanic voters to the GOP this year, in Florida and elsewhere. If they hope to build on that, they may want to reconsider scapegoating the pro-life cause that can help attract those voters.