In the wake of another bad Election Day, Republicans are once again lamenting that they just haven’t found the right message on abortion while they continue to push unpopular policies on abortion. They remain convinced there’s some secret sauce that will allow them to ban abortion without a public backlash, perhaps by talking up how they’re going to add some exceptions to their abortion bans.
Are they ever going to learn? I'm starting to think they're never going to learn. Faced with a choice between “keep in place harsh abortion bans and push for more of them while trying to win voters by accusing Democrats of extremism” and “back off the unpopular policies,” Republicans go with Door A every time. Voters, however, can tell who the extremists are.
“The people aren’t with us,” Sen. Kevin Cramer told The Washington Post. “We don’t win the debate very well publicly because we’ve sort of boiled it down to pro-life or pro-choice, as opposed to the nuance of it. … How you talk about it matters. We do have to learn how to talk about that.” Cramer’s state, North Dakota, bans abortion except to prevent death or a serious health risk to the pregnant person. In cases of rape or incest, abortion is legal up to six weeks’ gestation, a time when many people—let alone ones dealing with trauma—don’t even know they’re pregnant yet. What exactly is the nuance Cramer wants to talk about there?
“This will take time to overcome because this is a culture change that needs to happen,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told the Post. “I’m thinking two decades out. I’m not necessarily just focused on the next election.” You guys have had decades to get to this point, and you got here with the judiciary only to find out you still didn't have the public. What exactly do you think you’ll do in the next two decades that you couldn’t accomplish in the last four or five?
Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio responded to his state voting for abortion rights by taking another classic Republican messaging approach. “Having an unplanned pregnancy is scary,” Vance tweeted. “Best case, you’re looking at social scorn and thousands of dollars of unexpected medical bills. We need people to see us as the pro-life party, not just the antiabortion party.”
Okay, first off, “social scorn” is not the “best case” with an unplanned pregnancy. Vance is telling on himself a little there. In reality, some people have communities that do not respond with hostility to single-motherhood. Additionally, lots of married people and people in serious relationships have unplanned pregnancies. They make up a minority of abortions, but these pregnancies most definitely happen. Is Vance suggesting that married women face social scorn over unplanned pregnancies? No, he’s just giving away who he thinks of when he thinks of unplanned pregnancies.
Second, Republicans keep trying that “we need people to see us as the pro-life party, not just the antiabortion party” message, but it doesn’t work so well when they’re also doing things like trying to cut WIC, the food assistance program for women, infants, and young children. It’s hard to convince people that you are going to be there for them after forcing them to remain pregnant and give birth when your party is actively cutting one of the most-used safety nets for families with young children. If Republicans really, really wanted to make the case that they were helping parents with unplanned children, there is so much they could do, starting not just with expanding WIC but also with reinstating the expanded child tax credit, which lifted 2.9 million children out of poverty in the six months it was in place. Republicans could make that—and more—happen, but they won’t. Even if they did, there would still be lots of people who simply could not or would not carry a pregnancy, give birth, and raise a child at any given moment in time. But Republicans are not even trying.
It’s not the messaging, guys. It’s the policies that voters hate.
Just one word explains why Democrats had such a massive election night on Tuesday: abortion. On the newest episode of The Downballot, co-hosts David Nir and David Beard recap all the top races through the lens of reproductive rights, which continue to motivate Democrats and even win over a key swath of Republican voters. Nowhere was that more evident than in Ohio, which voted to enshrine the right to an abortion into the state constitution by a double-digit margin, despite countless GOP attempts to derail the effort.