In general, I don’t think that reproductive rights are that big a political issue. They seem to to represent a kind of binary choice for the middle of the political spectrum. As long as a candidate seems like she isn’t going to make abortion illegal outright — or even if she just doesn’t place too much emphasis on the issue — the voters are willing to give a pass. But at Thursday night’s debate when Scott Walker claimed that there should not even be an abortion exception for the life of the mother, he slipped over the line. And so did Rubio and Huckabee. And we know that Ted Cruz is right there with them. I don’t think any of these candidates have a real chance in a general election.
This is interesting, because a lot of pundits think that Marco Rubio would be a great general election candidate. He is “Latino” after all — not that you would know it from looking at him. But he certainly abolished all arguments that he is a moderate with his claim that there should be no rape or incest exceptions. To be clear: I find that position morally superior to the more usual, “We’ll let women have abortions if they didn’t enjoy the sex.” But for most people, no exceptions is toxic.
The problem in the presidential election seems to be the Planned Parenthood fake sting videos. I haven’t written much about this because it makes me so angry. But the whole thing is turning out to be something of a dud. For most people, it is just another case of conservatives going after Planned Parenthood. The only place it is really getting traction is with the hardcore anti-choicers. The videos didn’t change their minds. But they apparently think that if they keep showing the videos to each other and acting outraged, that it will have some effect.
The only effect it seems to be having is making the Republican presidential candidates pander to them in a big way. My biggest complaint while watching the first Republican presidential forum was the repeated use of the Planned Parenthood videos to pontificate about abortion policies they were all pushing long before. It’s annoying to listen to them totally mischaracterize the videos. But it is ultimately useless, except in putting them all on the record with their extreme opinions. So it would seem that it’s been a good thing for the Democrats.
In addition to all the screaming about abortion, all the candidates now want to defund Planned Parenthood. This is curious. Even the Republicans will admit that what Planned Parenthood is doing is not against the law. The arguments really have gone down to the point of complaining that the people working for the group talked about it too cavalierly and that it is “icky.” But these Republicans are not trying to make tissue donation illegal. Instead, they are going for defunding. It’s been widely reported that only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions. But more to the point: the federal government doesn’t fund any of those abortions. So why do the Republicans want to defund the rest?
None of this is very surprising. Jonathan Allen noted that the whole thing doesn’t look good, Republicans Took a Big Political Risk on Abortion in the Fox Debate. He wrote, “The fundamental problem for the GOP is that it is sprinting to the right on a major social issue that has tripped up its candidates over and over again.” But I’m not sure how they could avoid it. Being anti-choice is one of the most popular positions they have. Given that Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have come out as such pure anti-choicers, it is going to be hard for Jeb Bush to avoid it. And Ben Carson is on record as being just as extreme. In the end, the Republicans’ best chance may be to nominate Donald Trump.