GOP Experts Warn Candidates to Stop Treating Abortion ‘Like a Hot Stove’ They Won’t Touch
Nobody likes a wimp — and on the issue of abortion, the Republican Party has plenty of them. After the Dobbs ruling put the issue back in legislators’ hands, a shocking number of GOP candidates spent the 2022 and 2023 elections cowering in the collective corner, hoping voters would take their silence as confirmation that they had a reasonable position on life (despite the Democrats’ 24/7 ads to the contrary). Now, staring down a high-stakes November where this issue has the potential to upend all of the GOP’s momentum, more voices are urging the party to get off the sidelines and fight.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) was the latest to demand more guts from candidates. “You need to tell voters your position [on abortion],” argued the head of the House’s Republican fundraising arm. The idea that conservatives can continue letting the Democrats mischaracterize their positions is a losing recipe for 2024, he insisted. It’s time to stop being scared and start getting aggressive, Hudson urged.
“[Our candidates] need to articulate their position to the voters,” he pointed out, “because [right now] the voters think the Republican position is like, ‘We’ll throw you in jail if you get an abortion.’” And unfortunately, that lie has become the perceived reality in the face of very little GOP pushback. “We could have done a better job handling [abortion] last cycle,” Hudson lamented, “where the Democrats spent hundreds of millions of dollars on that topic, and we pretty much just treated it like a hot stove and didn’t touch it.”
And this year, Joe Biden’s party is betting even more money on the topic — an unsurprising move for leaders with nothing to run on but three years of catastrophe. Already, one of the Left’s super-PACs has pledged an eye-popping $200 million on television, social media, radio, and mail advertisements focused on the GOP’s supposedly “radical” position on life.
“Another Donald Trump presidency would mean disaster for Americans who value their rights,” the founder of America Bridge 21st Century said. “We know exactly how to beat Donald Trump. We’ve done it before, and our paid media strategy is a big part of how we’re going to do it again.”
What Democrats are careful not to say — and what Republicans should begin to — is their actual position on abortion. That, strategists say, is where conservatives have a powerful edge. “Republicans don’t have a policy problem,” Hudson insisted. “We have a branding problem,” Hudson said. “We need to point out that the Democrat position is abortion for any reason, up until the moment of birth, paid for by taxpayers. That’s extreme.”
Family Research Council Vice President Brent Keilen agreed that the GOP’s silence created “a huge messaging disadvantage.” “Attempting to avoid this conversation — a conversation that was and is on many voters’ minds — allowed the opposition to completely set the terms of the debate,” he told The Washington Stand. “Candidates should make sure to do two things: first, let the voters know where you stand; second, draw a contrast with what the radical abortion lobby is actively pushing for.”
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has been beating that drum since Dobbs. “We shouldn’t be silent,” she insisted late last year. “Listen, we’re proud to be a party that stands for the unborn. And I think coming out of Roe, after 50 years of … people not having to navigate this issue, it’s really important that we define ourselves before the Democrats do. Let’s talk about pregnancy [care] centers. Let’s talk about getting rid of cumbersome regulation to adoption. But let’s also put the Democrats on the defense because they stand for late-term abortion. They stand for gender-selection abortion.”
“I will work alongside every single candidate,” McDaniel vowed, “but Democrats have nothing to run on except for abortion, and they spent $350 million on it in 2022. They are going to use the same playbook in 2024, and our candidates need to get up to speed and be able to go on TV and articulate where we stand — because when we do, we win.”
If they need motivation, check out the polling data. “The first step in addressing the public perceptions of Republicans’ stance on abortion restrictions is to get a handle on the basics,” urged Amanda Iovino, polling director for Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 campaign. “Americans generally favor some limits on abortion. As an October 2022 WPA Intelligence poll found, by a two-to-one margin, voters see no restrictions on abortion as ‘more extreme’ than limiting it with exceptions for rape, incest, and the mother’s life.”
In a country as divided as ours, that’s as close to a statistical slam-dunk as you can get. Another August 2022 survey from the same group discovered that “62 percent of likely voters support limiting abortion to 15 weeks or earlier, similar to the European standard.” This is the line of public consensus that Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have been urging the GOP to draw — with surprising pushback from fellow pro-lifers.
“If we can’t muster the courage, post-Dobbs, to tell the country that we’re against late-term abortion, then we’ve lost our way,” he’s argued. That doesn’t mean, Graham has said, that states can’t be more restrictive. If Arkansas or Louisiana want to outlaw abortion entirely, they can. But there also needs to be a clear, nationwide boundary, Graham argued, so that children in extreme places like California, Illinois, or Maryland have a fighting chance. So “at 15 weeks, we draw the line as a nation. [That’s a] minimum federal standard.”
It’s also a strong public preference, Iovino pointed out. But for Republicans to seize on this support, they have to also realize the mountain of misconceptions they’ll have to climb — the tragic result of months of Republican silence on the issue. “The same poll found that 44 percent of Americans mistakenly thought the Supreme Court has outlawed abortion nationwide, and half of those voters think Republicans also want to ban contraceptives. This misinformation makes it easier for Democrats to foster distrust towards Republicans.”
Americans witnessed that first-hand in Virginia and Ohio, where radical abortion won on the ballots by popular vote — stunning states that had made positive pro-life strides. “Heading into the 2024 cycle, the Republican Party must craft clear, effective messaging to counter misinformation and rebuild trust,” Iovino warned. “… The lessons for the GOP from Virginia and Ohio are clear: prioritize policies that support women and directly confront trust issues and misinformation.”
One of the first things a candidate learns, FRC Action Director Matt Carpenter pointed out to TWS, “is to not allow your opponent to define you on an issue.” “Issues don’t just go away because a campaign refuses to engage,” he warned. “In fact, if Republicans don’t engage, a vacuum emerges, one that pro-abortion forces are happy to fill. They want the issue to be about removing someone’s rights when in reality what we’re really talking about is protecting unborn lives. Chairman Hudson’s advice is solid — candidates need to tell the voters where they stand.”
The stakes are too high not to.
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.