Yesterday, Senator Mitt Romney said he didn’t agree with the Alabama abortion ban. Earlier, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he believes the measure goes too far. Other Republican senators went on Sunday news shows to express their concern with the law. Even Donald Trump says he doesn’t agree with the law.
So what gives? For decades, we’ve heard Republicans claim that they believe life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. OverturningRoe v Wade has been a cornerstone of their political platform for almost fifty years. Now that states are passing the ban that GOP leaders have been promoting, national Republican leaders are backtracking as fast as possible.
Could it be that abortion has been just another cynical issue to fire up the evangelical base? Establishment Republicans didn’t really think any state would pass a total ban and now that it’s happened, they’re running for cover. They run the risk of further alienating women whose votes they’ll need if they want to win elections.
We saw the same scenario play out with race. For fifty years, establishment GOP leaders sat silently as the racist wing of the party used dog whistles to whip up anti-minority and anti-immigrant sentiment. When that sentiment finally reached fever pitch with white supremacist rallies like the one in Charlottesville, those leaders quickly started condemning the racist rhetoric they ignored for decades.
The ban in Alabama passed with a backdrop of Donald Trump telling audiences that Democrats are executing newborn babies. Other conservative pundits claim states like New York allow abortion on demand up the time of birth. The North Carolina legislature passed the so-called Born Alive bill to protect fetuses that survive late-term abortion when abortions after 20 weeks are performed almost exclusively when the life of the mother is at risk or the fetus is non-viable due to terrible deformities.
On race and abortion, Republicans find their moral clarity when it’s too late. They condemn racist rhetoric after it escapes the confines of the deluded subculture that makes up part of their base and bursts onto the national stage. They oppose a total ban on abortion after sitting silently while a portion of their base accused Democrats of supporting infanticide.
After Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric legitimized the extremist views of the anti-abortion and anti-immigrant movements, the GOP is finally finding its voice. It was one thing while the rhetoric was gaining them votes by firing up the base. It’s a whole different equation when the same rhetoric is costing them votes by alienating the middle. They’re paying the price for the cynicism of their convictions.