Ramesh Ponnuru argues that Chris Christie’s impending win shows that a social conservative can win in purple (or even blue) territory. Samuel Goldman argues that the price for these social conservatives being elected is that they must not actually do much to advance their policies. I’m not sure that is true. Christie wasn’t going to get many abortion restrictions through the Democrat- controlled state legislature but he did veto funding for Planned Parenthood. One more pro-life Republican senator would make it that much easier to confirm a constitutionalist Supreme Court Justice. I do think that it matters how candidates are pro-life in blue or purple constituencies - and the electorate for presidential elections is not Republican-leaning.
One temptation for candidates in purple constituencies is to take a strong pro-life stand in the Republican primaries and then either end up treating their abortion positions as embarrassments to be spoken of as little as possible or else fight the general election campaign on unfavorable ground. The first leads to the insanity of the 2012 vice presidential where Joe Biden - whose running mate opposed extending legal protections to infants who survived abortions - was able to pose as the candidate of moderation and Paul Ryan was defensively explaining that he supported an abortion exception for rape. The discussion was completely upside down given the issues that we deal with under the Roe legal regime. The second strategy of choosing to fight on unfavorable ground puts pro-life candidates one slip of the tongue from Todd Akin.
As Ponnuru has suggested elsewhere, candidates in competitive constituencies should support incremental restrictions on late-term abortions and make it clear that policy changes will follow public opinion while focusing on the extremism of the other side. There is a latent plurality for restricting abortions after twenty weeks. Appealing to that group doesn’t just mean mobilizing moderate abortion voters on issues where moderates overlap with pro-lifers. Reminding those moderate voters about the humanity of the late-term fetus might make some voters reconsider whether the fetus is also a human being before twenty weeks. And that isn’t where pro-life activism must or should end. It is just that making the case for the humanity of the human person from the earliest stages is best left to candidates from more secure constituencies and to outside groups.
This leads us to the importance of the outside groups. Persuadable voters are likely to get their public affairs information from the mainstream news and entertainment media. Most of the people who work in the mainstream news and entertainment media are, at various levels of self-awareness, pro-abortion partisans. This shows up in how abortion politics gets framed. If Obama focuses on abortion, it is just politics. If it is Wendy Davis talking late-term abortion, it is heroism. If a pro-lifer focuses on abortion, they are insane (obsessed). If a pro-lifer should be winning on the issue, it is a species of cheating (distraction) or a threat to social peace (divisive).
That raises the cost of a pro-life candidate talking about abortion even on issues where public opinion is favorable. That doesn’t mean that pro-life candidates shouldn’t bring up abortion policy, but it would be a lot easier if some of that vast amount of money raised by right-leaning groups went to demonstrating the humanity of the late-term fetus and the extremism of the national Democrats. It is several kinds of disgrace that the vast majority of persuadable voters never heard that Obama voted against extending legal protections to infants who survived botched abortions. The liberal -leaning media at least have the excuse that they are . . . liberal. What is the excuse of the right-leaning groups? Is protecting newborns too unpopular? Too “divisive”?