Lewis: The Republican conundrum
I like the word conundrum because it sounds like what it means — a perplexing problem.
“A conundrum” is the best description I can come up with for the problem Republicans are facing in future elections. Allow me to explain.
Up until the Dobbs decision, Roe v. Wade was the law of the land. In terms of electing a political representative, it didn’t really matter how they felt about abortion. It was constitutionally legal so no state or even federal government could change it. Being pro-choice or pro-life was a personal belief, not something that was actionable in terms of legislation.
Close to half of Republicans (44%), including myself, are pro-choice as are the majority of independent voters. Since there was no real possibility that a legislator could overturn a constitutional right, I had no problem voting for pro-life candidates because I saw it as a personal belief. I based my candidate selection on their stance on other issues.
Then everything changed.
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After years of telling my wife not to worry about abortion rights, the Supreme Court did the unthinkable and revoked what most had assumed was an inalienable constitutional right. Abortion would be left to legislatures.
While heralded by pro-life activists as one of the most significant victories in decades, it was also compared to the dog that chases the car and actually gets ahold of the bumper — what now? Instantly, what we all took to be personal beliefs, became legislative positions.
Republican-dominated state legislatures moved quickly to pass abortion bans but many were surprised by the pushback. In Kansas, a state where Republicans dominate Democrats by almost 2 to 1, voters overwhelmingly voted to maintain abortion rights.
As Astro from “The Jetsons” would say: “ruh-roh.”
Many reasons were cited as causes for the Republicans not doing better in the midterms; abortion is now believed to be one of the most significant. While polling might lead one to believe the issue is a low priority (as it polls as the most critical issue for only 5% of the population) the pollsters are not asking the right questions. For many, a candidate’s stance on abortion has become a checkbox issue, meaning voters will select their candidate only from those that agree with their position.
On most issues, nailing down a politician’s exact position can be difficult. A savvy politician rarely answers questions with a simple yes or no. It is all about subtleties. On issues like crime, defense, or the economy, candidates are usually aligned on the goal (like a strong defense) but may differ on implementation. Abortion is unique in that it is very hard to be subtle in your opinion. You are either pro-choice or pro-life.
Because elected officials now can legislate abortion laws, their stance on the issue takes on a much more serious implication. Thus, the Republican conundrum.
With the Supreme Court failing to provide any specific rights for women regarding abortion, they removed the ability for Republicans to be “pro-life” but, because of the constitution, not be able to do anything about it. Now Republican candidates must craft a stance on abortion that will allow them to win both primaries and general elections. This is going to be a difficult task given that the overall sentiment on abortion is highly divergent from party views. While it is difficult if not impossible for a pro-choice Republican to win in a primary, the reverse becomes true when you look at general elections. Hence, the conundrum. How do pro-life Republicans position themselves to win general elections?
Somewhat surprisingly, Donald Trump seems to be one of the few Republican candidates that recognizes the issue. He is trying to thread the needle by simply saying it is an issue for the states, effectively saying he will not make any move for federal legislation. This has angered anti-abortion groups, but Trump knows that this may be the only viable position to win a general election.
This is no small issue for Republicans. Given that states like Kansas and Michigan voted to support abortion rights, this is clearly a losing issue for the GOP in contested elections. I believe the future of the Republican party hinges on them finding a way to solve this conundrum.
Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.