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GOP Flummoxed by Abortion as White House Hopefuls Take Debate Stage

GOP presidential hopefuls are set to take the debate stage as their party – facing election losses – searches for a new strategy on abortion. Will they deliver?

Republican Presidential Candidates, L to R; Chris Christie, Nikki Haley Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy arrive for the start of the second GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, Wednesday, September 27, 2023.(DAVID CRANE, LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS/SCNG VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Republicans on Tuesday decisively lost key electoral matchups across the country that came down to one issue over and over again: abortion. But even as some in the GOP spent Wednesday licking their wounds and reconsidering their strategy, it remains to be seen whether the party’s slate of presidential hopefuls – set to take the stage for their third debate – got the message.

Competitive races in Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky that directly or tangentially involved reproductive rights all slipped away from Republicans in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a woman’s guaranteed rights to an abortion. The results were a continuation of the narrative of midterm contests a year ago in which Democrats also got the better of the GOP as well as a series of special elections in which abortion rights have been protected at the ballot box.

“The true lesson from last night’s loss is that Democrats are going to make abortion front and center throughout 2024 campaigns,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group SBA Pro-Life America, said in a post-election statement Wednesday. “The GOP consultant class needs to wake up. Candidates must put money and messaging toward countering the Democrats’ attacks or they will lose every time.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican and the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, was more direct.

“I think by and large, you’ve seen that if we’re talking abortion, we’re losing,” Romney said.

Whether the party’s White House hopefuls modify their message is less certain. No candidate has appeared to seamlessly address the issue so far, as the party reckons with the best approach, spelling trouble for the candidates each time it’s brought up.

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On one side of the issue, some candidates have already shied away from extreme rhetoric like a national ban. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said he opposes a federal ban, leaving the issue to states unless there’s a national “consensus.”

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has likewise opposed a federal ban, though he’s signaled support for bans beyond six weeks of pregnancy on the state level.

Former Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has largely sidestepped the question by arguing that Democrats in Congress would prevent an abortion ban from becoming law and instead touted the pragmatic conclusion of imposing restrictions where they can be agreed upon while working to sway public opinion elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina has backed a federal ban on abortion beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy and signaled openness to a stricter policy, earning the support of groups that oppose the procedure.

And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a ban on abortion beyond six weeks of a pregnancy in his state, while he also backs a nationwide ban beyond 15 weeks.

Former Vice President Mike Pence had been the most staunch opponent to abortion, criticizing calls for consensus and arguing for a nationwide ban on abortion before 15 weeks. Not coincidentally, he withdrew from the race last month amid a complicated relationship with the Republican base.

For his part, GOP front-runner and former President Donald Trump – who often adjusts his ideology to his audience – has already attempted to find a middle ground, however disjointedly, claiming victory for his role in appointing Supreme Court justices whose votes led to Roe being overturned while expressing concern after the midterms about the issue being a political liability. Still, he’s suggested openness to a ban beyond 15 weeks more recently.

That type of compromise strategy, though, faced its first major test Tuesday.

The new approach was characterized by a proud embrace of clearly defined limits on abortion and most clearly embodied by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin, who wasn’t himself on the ballot, campaigned on a pledge to pass an abortion ban beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy if voters granted Republicans full legislative control. The gambit – a departure from last year’s midterm campaign, when Republicans kept their heads down on abortion and avoided taking a stance – was meant to set a new standard for the party in addressing the issue.

Groups that oppose abortion made historic investments into state legislative races, while Dannenfelser wrote in an op-ed days ahead of the election that Virginia would be “the clearest bellwether going into 2024,” offering Republicans a chance to flip the script.

“If Republicans thwart the advances of pro-abortion rights Democrats and hold the House or take the Senate, it would provide a roadmap for the GOP to tackle abortion and make it their winning issue nationwide – even in the bluest states – and in Washington,” she wrote. “All eyes are on Virginia to prove that abortion is not the left’s silver bullet.”

The result? Youngkin not only could not deliver a Senate majority but his party lost control of the House of Delegates as well. After two approaches have fallen short when put to the test by voters, the path forward for the GOP is unclear. And the issue is expected to continue to make waves heading into 2024.

Tuesday’s elections were emblematic of the difficulty Republicans face, with the Republican candidates eyeing the White House appearing split so far on how to proceed. Just a day after abortion delivered Democrats decisive victories, they return to the debate stage where it could well be front and center, posing a new test as they try to chart a path to the nomination that doesn’t alienate the general electorate in the process.

Source; US News