Republicans Should Follow Ron DeSantis’ Lead: Protect Babies From Abortion and Help Women

Opinion   |   Jon Schweppe   |   Apr 18, 2023   |   4:52PM   |   Washington, DC

Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill prohibiting abortions once an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, except in certain circumstances, while directing $25 million in funding toward pregnancy resource centers that help mothers and their children, both born and unborn.

This really should not shock anyone. DeSantis is a pro-life governor in a state where he just won re-election by almost 20 points, he enjoys a pro-life supermajority in the Florida legislature, and he will probably soon be vying for the presidential nomination of the pro-life party. Of course he is going to support and sign pro-life legislation.

But the media is shocked. And apparently so are Republican strategists, many of whom are advising candidates to duck the abortion issue entirely. Doing anything on abortion in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer, they tell us, is a political loser. Instead, the strategists and consultants argue that the best path forward for the GOP is to stay silent and talk about other, “nicer” issues.

But here is how the GOP strategists’ preferred strategy has already played out: In practically every important race since the Dobbs decision, the Democrats have spent millions of dollars on campaign ads telling voters that Republicans are extremists who want to jail women who terminate ectopic pregnancies. In response, Republicans have largely refused to say what they would actually do, and have instead tried to change the topic. As a result, Republicans have lost numerous winnable elections.

This is exactly what happened in practically every disappointing loss in the 2022 midterms, and it just happened again in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election. A normal person might look at this pattern and conclude that Republicans had better start articulating a coherent abortion position—and soon. But that would be too simple a solution for these tactical geniuses; instead, they argue, Republicans have to talk about abortion even less. Don’t talk about it, don’t run ads, and, whatever you do, definitely don’t pass any legislation. Thus, the fretting about DeSantis’s heartbeat bill.

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This is, frankly, a naive and stupid argument. What do these strategists expect will happen in 2024? Are Democrats going to suddenly stop running ads on abortion? Will GOP messaging on inflation and crime miraculously persuade independents to ignore the Democrats’ abortion attacks the third, fourth, or fifth time around?

The most frustrating part of this newfound GOP consultant “wisdom” is that it does not even comport with the actual electoral data. Heartbeat bills in Ohio, Georgia, and Texas all took effect in recent years. According to the GOP strategists’ theory, the pro-life governors who supported these bills should have been in deep trouble. But they weren’t: Governors Mike DeWine (Ohio), Brian Kemp (Georgia), and Greg Abbott (Texas) all won re-election in 2022 by comfortable margins. In fact, there is little evidence to support the notion that the abortion issue hurt these governors at al

Pro-lifers who want to save as many babies as quickly as possible know that the best path forward is to push for, and enact, the most ambitious consensus policy that can pass into law. In elections, this means advocating for the best laws that can earn public support, while contrasting them with the Democrats’ extremely unpopular abortion radicalism.

This is what DeSantis has done—and what we can safely anticipate he will do as he faces left-wing pushback in the days ahead. His position is popular, while modern Democrats’ pro-abortion radicalism is extremely unpopular. A strong 61% majority of Florida voters support DeSantis’s heartbeat law, for example, while only 21% support the modern Democrats’ position of allowing abortion without restriction, at any time, and for any reason.

The alternative to Republicans supporting such common-sense laws is to let Democrats draw a much less flattering contrast. And when Republicans let Democrats define them, as they did in 2022, they lose—and lose big. The GOP “ostrich strategy” of silence on abortion simply doesn’t work.

Fortunately, Republicans have an opportunity to try something different in 2024. In Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has introduced legislation that would save thousands upon thousands of lives, including those in blue states. The Graham bill federally prohibits abortions after 15 weeks, with rare exceptions, while allowing pro-life states to enact more aggressive life-saving laws if they can. Democrats don’t want this smoke—poll after poll after poll after poll shows that a significant majority of voters support a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, especially when that ban is contrasted with the Democrats’ no-limits, abortion on-demand position. If Republicans embrace this 15-week legislation at the federal level, they not only shore up their own vulnerabilities on the issue, but also play to win.

But national Republicans cannot seem to agree. They are completely enchanted by the “ostrich strategy,” despite a growing mountain of evidence demonstrating that strategy’s failure. Only 10 Senate Republicans so far have found the courage to support Graham’s bill. Some Republicans have publicly said—and many more have said it privately—that they don’t want to pass anything at the national level at all. In essence, these Republican senators and congressmen want to just never talk about abortion again.

Whoever aspires to lead the Republican Party at the presidential level will have to overcome these self-destructive instincts. The only way to turn around the abortion issue is to do, at the national level, exactly what DeSantis has done in Florida: Find the consensus that saves the most unborn lives, have the guts to make the case to the American people, and actually get the job done. Kudos to Gov. DeSantis for getting the ball rolling.

LifeNews Note: Jon Schweppe is the policy director at American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter: @JonSchweppe.