After the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision Democrats are hoping to use women's issues to increase their share of the women's vote over the substantial advantage they enjoyed in the 2012 election. A portion of that advantage was credited to the foot in mouth fiasco of Todd Aiken talking about "legitimate rape". The Republicans are struggling with their usual internal divisions in coming up with an approach to dealing with the issue. The far right religious conservatives have come up with their preferred strategy. They are organizing religiously conservative women to front for them.
It was not on the public schedule for the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting at the stately Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. But inside a conference room, a group of conservative women held a boot camp to strengthen an unlikely set of skills: how to talk about abortion.
They have conducted a half-dozen of these sessions around the country this year, from Richmond, Va., to Madison, Wis. Coaches point video cameras at the participants and ask them to talk about why they believe abortion is wrong.
They review the video, and critiques are rendered. “ ‘Rape’ is a four-letter word,” one of the consultants often advises. “Purge it from your lexicon.”
Another tip: Keep remarks as short as possible. “Two sentences is really the goal,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, the anti-abortion group that hosts the boot camps. “Then stop talking.”
That fighting notion cuts against the counsel of others in the Republican Party who have warned candidates to tread gingerly around divisive social issues, a lesson from the intemperate comments like the one about “legitimate rape” that cost the party dearly in 2012. The Republican National Committee’s own assessment of the party’s losses in 2012 hit this theme repeatedly, saying that “we must change our tone.”This gives the appearance of an organized and well funded undertaking. It is not just a bunch of pro-life types mouthing off at a sparsely attended Tea Party rally. It is being funded by The Susan B. Anthony List, that anti-abortion organization that has appropriated the name of an early feminist. They are using sophisticated campaign technology of polling and focus groups to craft a consistent political message. Marilyn Musgrave, the fire breathing pro-life former congresswoman from Colorado is one of the major players.
But a vocal group of social conservatives, dismayed both by their party’s apparent dismissiveness of their passion and by the Democrats’ success at portraying Republicans as prosecuting a “war on women,” are rewriting the anti-abortion movement’s script. The problem, they argue, is not that conservatives talk too much about social issues, but that they say too little, and do it in the wrong way.
While they would be quite happy to swing the votes of centrist independents, their primary objective seems to be firing up the passions of the right wing base.
Some Republicans say that making abortion a larger part of the party’s message this year will increase the turnout of their base, which could be decisive in the three Southern states — Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — that are crucial to Democrats’ hopes of holding on to their majority in the Senate. And they are beginning to experiment with making their message on later-term abortions appeal beyond just the base.The key change is this strategy from the past is cultivating women spokes persons for their cause. By and large the face of religious conservatism has been white men telling women what is their Christian duty. That comes out of a culture in which men are traditionally expected to have all leadership roles and the women who have identified with that culture have ascribed to the tradition. Having women come forward with a well polished campaign is an effort to discredit the messages of feminists and their supporters.
This is a classic conundrum of political strategy faced by both parties. If you try to tone down the rhetoric and appeal to independents in the center, you risk alienating your more ideologically motivated base. The base isn't going to go out and vote for the opposition, but they may get angry and stay home. This time around it seems to be a problem plaguing the Republicans more than the Democrats. However, looking beyond to 2014 election, there is increasing evidence of a right wing campaign to roll back the clock on 50 years of social progress. It is unlikely that they can make it be 1955 all over again, but they can erect some significant obstacles such as Hobby Lobby.