Addressing the Abortion Meme
When discussing the candidates for the 2008 Republican nomination for President, invariably at least one pundit will declare that "No Pro-Choice candidate can ever will the GOP nomination". Having stated this "known fact", the pundit will usually go on to definitively dismiss the chances of one or more of the candidates in the GOP field.
The fact that an openly Pro-Choice candidate could never win the Republican nomination will not be debated here. Even the most liberal Republican must concede this point. However, the problem lies with the inherent dishonestly, the "sleight of hand" if you will, of the statement. The real question is whether a candidate that has espoused Pro-Choice ideals in the past can win the Republican nomination for President if they have properly reformed their opinion to fall in line with the majority opinion of the Republican Party. Or perhaps more succinctly: Is a Pro-Choice Presidential candidate able to modify their position on abortion to appease the Republican base? I believe that history shows the not only to be possible, but the norm in the Republican nomination process.
Due to the thesis in question, I will include as evidence policy enacted, signed, or championed during any elected term of the candidates detailed here. The statement in question is in itself a declaration of purity on this issue. Surely then, any legislation signed as an elected official that would serve to increase the number of abortions or further the Pro-Choice agenda in any way would be viewed by the "True Believers" of the GOP as evidence of softness on this issue and will be treated as such here.
Not discussed here will be any impact of nominating a formerly Pro-Choice candidate the 2008 general election. This essay discusses the impact on the Republican nomination process alone.
Let's begin by taking a look at the first post-Roe open contest-
1980 was essentially a two-man race from the very beginning, 1976 2nd place finisher Pro-Life Ronald Reagan versus Pro-Choice George H.W. Bush.
George H.W. Bush was the liberal candidate in the race. Dr. Larry M. Bartels recalls Bush's 1980 candidacy in his seminal "Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice":
Bush went on to defeat Ronald Reagan in Iowa before his campaign was derailed in New Hampshire.
Bush becomes the model for future Republican presidential candidates. After his selction as VP, Bush was able to reform his abortion stance in order to become acceptable to the Republican base when it was his turn in 1988. By that time, not even Evangelical Minister Pat Robertson could do enough damage to Bush on this issue to deny him the nomination.
But what about the the man at the top of the ticket?
Almost no one denies that Ronald Reagan detested abortion personally (although there are dissenters out there). In 1983, President Reagan submitted an unsolicted Op-Ed to The National Review entitled "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation" where he argued that, "We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life — the unborn — without diminishing the value of all human life."
However, Reagan's actions as Governor of California would certainly be cause for controversy in today's nomination process. As biographer Lou Cannon notes in his chronicle of Reagan's time as Governor "The Role of a Lifetime":
"Reagan was not as obsessive about anti-abortion legislation as he often seemed. Early in his California governorship he had signed a permissive abortion bill that has resulted in more than a million abortions. Afterward, he inaccurately blamed this outcome on doctors, saying that they had deliberately misinterpreted the law. When Reagan ran for president, he won backing from pro-life forces by advocating a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited all abortions except when necessary to save the life of the mother. Reagan’s stand was partly a product of political calculation, as was his tactic after he was elected of addressing the annual pro-life rally held in Washington by telephone so that he would not be seen with the leaders of the movement on the evening news. While I do not doubt Reagan’s sincerity in advocating an anti-abortion amendment, he invested few political resources toward obtaining this goal."
This bring us to the next open nomination, that of Senator Bob Dole in 1996. Dole was able to gain the nomination over more socially conservative candidates Pat Buchanan and Alan Keyes.
Social Conservatives were uneasy regarding Senator Bob Dole's abortion stance from the very beginning of the campaign. Noted as the only person who could "could bridge the gap between the moderate and conservative wings of the Kansas Republican Party." Many conservatives wondered about Dole's commitment to the Pro-Life movement.
1996 perhaps marks the highwater mark of influence of Pro-Choice adherents on the Republican Party, with politicians such as Christine Todd Wittman, among many others, loudly calling for a Pro-Choice running mate, and warning of impending doom if the GOP did not take a more moderate abortion stance.
Anti-abortion activists found their fears confirmed as soon as Dole won the nomination. Dole openly advocated moderating the Republican Party platform adopt a "declaration of tolerance for divergent points of view" regarding abortion.
The 2000 election brings us the most Pro-Life field of candidates since Roe. However, once again the frontrunners were not without their problems in this regard.
Texas Governor George W. Bush was responsible for appointing the majority of judges on a Texas Supreme Court that ruled the Texas Parental Notification statute unconstitutional. Bush also stated that he did not believe that the country was "ready" to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Arizona Senator John McCain, despite having a lifetime record being strognly Pro-Life, created doubt in the minds of GOP primary voters when it came to light that he privately assured a group of San Francisco newspaper editors that he would not make the overturning of Roe vs. Wade a priority in his administration, as well as vocally attacking the leaders of the Religious Right. These two actions served to cancel out whatever gains McCain may have enjoyed by gaining the support of retiring 2000 GOP candidate Gary Bauer, the strongest So-Con candidate in the race.
This illustration of past Republican Presidential candidates shows us that a GOP Presidential nominee need not be 100% ideologically pure in regards to abortion. Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and Gary Bauer have all failed in their attempts at the nomination over candidates with much weaker Pro-Life credentials. However, what it does show is that candidates are able to modify their abortion stances to become "acceptable enough" to the Republican base.
At no time will this history be of greater relevance than in 2008, which sports perhaps the weakest field of Presidential frontrunners in regards to abortion since 1976.
Let''s take a look at the 2008 Republican field (excluding media frontrunner John McCain whose abortion stance was discussed above).
Governor Mitt Romney entered politics in 1994, challenging Massachusettes Senator Ted Kennedy.
In a televised debate with Sentor Ted Kennedy, Romney explained that "regardless of one's beliefs about choice, you would hope it would be safe and legal."
Romney went on to explain how he had come to his opinion:
"Many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that.With my mom, that was a personal thing because we had a tragedy close to us -- not in our immediate family, but a young girl who actually was engaged and had an illegal abortion and died. She was a beautiful, talented young gal we all loved. And it pretty much ruined the parents -- their only daughter. You would do anything not to repeat that."
Referring again to that incident:
"I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a US Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years we should sustain and support it."
In his 2002 campaign for Governor, Romney explained that:
"On a personal basis, I don't favor abortion," he said. "However, as governor of the commonwealth, I will protect a woman's right to choose under the laws of the country and the commonwealth. That's the same position I've had for many years."
George Allen entered the Virginia Governorship as "pro-choice in the first trimester and opposed to overturning Roe vs. Wade."
As recently as his 2000 Senatorial campaign, Allen has expressed his opinion that "...a woman should be allowed to have an abortion only until the point in pregnancy when there is a medical evidence of a heartbeat and brain activity." In a Project Vote Smart survey, Allen again reaffirmed that "abortion should be illegal when the fetus is viable, with or without life support" and "[abortion should be legal]...when pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, when the life of the woman is endangered, and gross fetal abnormality." Some Pro-Life advocates have noted that "the point in pregnancy when there is medical evidence of a heartbeat and brain actility accounts for 98% of all abortions."
Hizzoner is on record as supporting abortion in the past. His 2008 campaign has began in earnest. The modification of his abortion stance will likely soon begin as well. With Rudy's
track record of being the most accomplished conservative since Ronald Reagan, and his stratospheric public approval ratings, pundits should discount him at their own peril
In conclusion, I hope the effect of this essay, for those who have taken the time to read it, is to show that rarely are there any ideologically pure frontrunners in a GOP nominating contest. It is useless for we as conservatives to childishly point the finger at the other's candidates and play the "my candidate is more Pro-Life than yours" game.
Anyone who wins the Republican nomination will be naturally constrained by their base from any Pro-Choice leanings, especially in the post Harriet Miers world where websites maintain fantasy footballesque rankings of the most desired conservative Supreme Court nominees.
Spending, taxes, and immigration are critical issues where there is a wide divergence of opinion and track records amongst the 2008 candidates. The abortion issue will take care of itself.