". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Conservatives Brace for Attack on Life, Marriage in Upcoming Platform Debate

May 30, 2024

While the GOP is stuck in a messaging rut on life, rumors are swirling that a group of moderate Republicans might try to take advantage of the confusion and water down the party’s position on abortion. NBC News is the latest to stir the pot, insisting that they spoke to nine people close to the Trump campaign who warned that there’s a strategy afoot to stop conservatives from moving the party platform “too far to the right” on things like abortion and same-sex marriage. That’s sounding plenty of alarms in the GOP, where the base will tell you: debating the issues is fine, abandoning them is not.

Quena Gonzalez, senior director of Government Affairs at Family Research Council, has heard the rumblings about a battle brewing on key values for weeks. On “Washington Watch” Tuesday with guest host and former Congressman Jody Hice, he acknowledged the reports of “an organized effort to remove the life plank from the Republican Party Platform.” But is it really a threat — or just part of the retooling process?

“Look, part of this is perennial,” Gonzalez pointed out. “Every cycle, every four years, the parties gather and write their platforms. They update the language. And since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, [starting in] 1976, the Republican Party has had something to say about the protection of the unborn every four years — and that language has generally gotten stronger. As a matter of fact, the last time that the language on life was updated in 2016, it was very strong. And so we would look for a continued refinement of that language, but certainly a strengthening of that language.”

The difficulty now, people agree, is that the party seems surprisingly divided on how to move forward in a post-Roe world. From IVF to federal protections on abortion, the GOP has struggled to find — or voice — a cohesive, consensus policy. The only thing Republican strategists have seemed to rally around is this bit of advice: whatever you do, don’t run away from the issue. From the Senate and House fundraising arms to consultants and the RNC, the experts agree —silence on abortion is a political death sentence.

Maybe, Hice said optimistically, part of what we’re experiencing with these rumors is “nothing more than that.” Still, he reiterated, “The platform of a party is nonetheless extremely important. This is not something to just be brushed under the rug,” he warned. “… What the party believes is an important aspect to every candidate who’s running. It’s important for the grassroots out there. It’s important for things like comparing what we believe versus what they believe.”

More than that, researchers say, it’s a major predictor of how a politician will govern. And people believe it. In 2016, nearly 60% of Trump voters said the platform influenced their choice. Why? Because history shows that the platforms chart the path that parties ultimately take. Not too long ago, Lee Payne from Stephen F. Austin State University combed through all of the parties’ platforms from 1980 until 2004. “He identified every ‘direct promise’ in those platforms — pledges he thought amounted to concrete policy positions — and then compared those promises with all of the votes taken on either the House or Senate floor. … What Payne found might stun some cynics: In 25 years, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Congress voted in accordance with their platforms 82 percent of the time.”

In other words, this isn’t some useless document that sits on a shelf and collects dust until the next convention. The platform is the anchor that tethers the nominees to the core principles of their party — which, for Democrats, includes things like taxpayer-funded abortion and gender transitions for kids.

That wasn’t always the case for the president’s party, Gonzalez explained. On social values in particular, there used to be common ground. “It’s interesting to look back to 1976, because then the Democrat[ic] and Republican platforms on life did not differ that much. But of course, there’s been a huge divergence over the years, and it’s been increasingly vital that at least one of the two major political parties say something very, very clear about the sanctity and dignity of every human life.”

“It’s actually sad,” he continued, “that the Democratic Party has, over the years, drifted away from protecting the unborn.” And not just compromising on the issue, Gonzalez said, but “directly attacking the unborn.” “I’m old enough to remember when the Democrats … had room in their party for pro-life Democrats,” he explained. “But the party platform is quite clear [now]. And so, yes, it is absolutely vital that Republicans draw a sharp distinction here and show that they are and continue to be the party of life.”

Frankly, Hice shrugged, “if a party doesn’t have a platform declaring what they believe and what they embrace in principle and values and otherwise, are they even really a party?”

“It’s a good question,” Gonzalez agreed. “What would people be voting for? Perhaps they vote for the candidate at the top of the ticket. Perhaps they vote for their local congressman or congresswoman. But really, the reason why people run for office as a Republican or run as a Democrat is best spelled out by the party platform. And I don’t want to paint all doom and gloom. I don’t want to make this sound like it’s a foregone conclusion, [but] we are hearing, as you said, very concerning reports.”

Even so, he pointed out, there’s still time for Americans to weigh in before July, “and we’ve built a way for people to do that.” It’s also important to note that of the 5,000 delegates at the Republican National Convention this summer, “only about 112 of those will actually be voting on the language in the party platform,” Gonzalez wanted people to know. “And right now those delegates are being selected at the state level. Every state has a different process, but every state has a party chairman or a party chairwoman who is instrumental in that process.”

Maybe some Americans still think those detailed documents hammered out over days at the conventions don’t mean anything, but history shows — they mean everything. And if Republicans choose this year to walk away from their principles, then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters walk away from them.

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.