2024 Republicans run into political buzz saw on abortion

Republicans are running into a political buzz saw on abortion, with the party’s presidential candidates facing serious pressure to adopt highly restrictive policies that others in the GOP fear will cost the party the White House next year.  

Former President Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination, received significant pushback from several high-profile abortion opponent groups last week 
when his campaign issued a statement suggesting he supported the idea that the issue of abortion should be decided at the state level. 

Trump sought to defend his record on abortion following the criticism during an event in Iowa, noting the three Supreme Court justices he tapped while in office were ultimately part of the high court’s majority in overturning Roe v. Wade last year. 

Other potential GOP candidates have taken stricter positions. At a Heritage Foundation event last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) drew applause from the crowd when he touted signing a six-week abortion ban in his state. Former Vice President Pence has doubled down on his stance on the abortion pill mifepristone — which has been approved by regulators for 23 years — saying this week he wanted to see it “off the market.” 

That’s not to suggest Republican contenders are only articulating their stance on abortion at the whims of primary voters and abortion opponents. But the issue could become a political quagmire for Republicans as the party’s positions against abortion access become increasingly at odds with public opinion on the medical procedure. 

Some GOP strategists and lawmakers are urging primary presidential contenders to find a middle ground over the issue or pivot on it altogether as Democrats set their sights on using abortion rights to galvanize voters going into 2024.  

“They should talk about it as little as possible. They should change the subject at every opportunity,” advised GOP strategist Keith Naughton.  

While Naughton suggested the issue would play a larger role in down-ballot races than at the presidential level, he suggested Republican candidates should pivot on the issue as soon as they can because “you can’t thread the needle on it; it’s not possible.” 

Conservatives widely praised the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn access to abortion as a constitutional right — a ruling that had been years in the making for abortion rights opponents.  

But Republicans perhaps did not anticipate that the decision would portend electoral challenges ahead; first when Kansans widely rejected a restrictive abortion ballot measure last August, then later when the issue became a driving force for Democrats during the November midterms.  

The fight over abortion also played a salient role in this month’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, who publicized her support for abortion access, won the open seat and flipped the high court’s conservative majority for the first time in 15 years.  

The state’s Supreme Court is expected to take up a legal challenge to a restrictive 1849 abortion law that was put back on the books since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

In recent weeks, the presumptive field of 2024 Republican candidates has offered differing stances on the issue of abortion.  

During an interview with CBS News earlier this month Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) 
declined to say whether he’d back a proposal by South Carolina colleague Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of a federal 15-week abortion ban. That same week, he said he supported a 20-week national abortion ban during an interview with New Hampshire-based WMUR.   

During a separate interview with NBC News that week, Scott said, “If I were president of the United States, I would literally sign the most conservative, pro-life legislation that they can get through Congress.” This week, he affirmed to Newsmax he would sign Graham’s proposal into law. 

DeSantis, of course, has signed a six-week abortion ban while Pence suggested during an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that “the American people would welcome a minimum national standard in Washington, D.C., 15 weeks.” 

Still, others note that policy differences among candidates in a presidential contest are not unusual, and that’s certain to be the case on several other issues as contenders look to differentiate themselves among voters.  

“I think far too much has been made in the media about the candidates having different stances at this point. The bottom line is that these candidates are pro-life and they want to protect sanctity of life, and it’s just common nature for them to have a different level of comfort as to what they think is acceptable in terms of supporting life,” said GOP strategist Alice Stewart. 

But the issue of abortion is likely to be top-of-mind in the 2024 elections, just as it was during the last election cycle. 

“It’s massive the pressure that the likely primary voters are pushing on the candidates on the left and the right when it comes to this issue,” said nonpartisan pollster Mike Noble. 

“The GOP’s in quite a pickle when it comes to the abortion issue because they haven’t really come to a consensus of what their position should be. It was apparent in the last election cycle that Republicans were not unified in a message,” he added. 

One message coming from the GOP is to cast Democrats as the extremist party on abortion.  

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), have already started to sound the alarm bell, urging Republicans to find a middle ground. 

“As Republicans, we need to read the room on this issue because the vast majority of folks are not in the extremes,” Mace said on ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday. 

“We’re going to lose huge if we continue down this path of extremities. And finding that middle ground, the vast majority of people want some sort of gestational limits, not at — you know, not at nine months, but somewhere in the middle,” she added. “They want exceptions for rape and incest. They want women to have access to birth control. These are all very common-sense positions that we can take and still be pro-life.” 

Democrats, too, say they’re seeing the writing on the wall.  

“It’s basically like a murder-suicide pact right now among the Republicans,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. 

“As the party has gotten more and more boxed into like the extreme, MAGA-shrinking wing, there’s no way that you can win in a Republican primary right now without pushing your anti-abortion credentials,” he added. “And the more that you do to win that primary, it’s just an absolute slaughter in the general election.” 

But other Republicans are pushing back against the idea that having a stance against abortion access is a political liability. 

“When Republican governors have signed incredibly pro-life legislation, we have seen them be able to win reelection handily in competitive states. Georgia — Gov. [Brian] Kemp won by seven and a half percent versus Stacey Abrams, who made abortion a cornerstone of the conversation she was having with voters. [Gov.] Mike DeWine won by 25 points,” said Erin Perrine of the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down.  

Republican strategist Saul Anuzis, too, suggested contenders who support an abortion ban between 15 or 20 weeks wouldn’t run into issues around that position. He suggested Republicans run into trouble “when you take kind of the religious right perspective of life at conception that it becomes problematic, I think, in polling and the political realm.” 

Still, Anuzis suggested Republicans could benefit from being better messengers on the issue. 

“I think we have to be better at communicating what our positions are and what our positions aren’t. I think the left does a very good job of pigeonholing everybody into an extremist position on abortion,” he said.

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