Robert Morrison Guest columnist
January 9, 2014
The 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling Roe v. Wade is coming up this month, and thousands of activists from across the country, will descend yet again on the National Mall, calling for legal protections for the lives of unborn children. In 2009, for the first time more Americans called themselves pro-life than “pro-choice.” Given that, it’s sad how few pro-life politicians speak up in defense of the lives of the unborn.
Take the Virginia gubernatorial race last year for example.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was outspent 10-1 in last fall’s gubernatorial race against Terry McAuliffe. Down in the polls all fall, by double-digits among single women, he nonetheless managed to narrow the gap and closed within 2.5 points of the eventual winner.
Cuccinelli attributes his near-win to the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare. But left largely unused was the most powerful tool in his political toolbox: McAuliffe’s radically pro-abortion stance. As Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online has noted, the highly respected journal Campaigns & Elections recently published an important article showing that voters leaning toward McAuliffe might have been dissuaded had they known of his zealous backing of abortion-on-demand.
Then there’s Ronald Reagan. Reagan knew how strong feelings were on this powerful issue. He avoided ever directly attacking anyone for his or her pro-abortion stance. And he never came even close to criticizing any woman for having succumbed to abortion pressures. He was always a gentleman and a sympathetic listener.
But Reagan was up-front and unapologetic about his pro-life position. In fact, he was the first national political figure to call himself “pro-life” and not anti-abortion. He knew the press was overwhelmingly against him.
He also knew that millions of Democrats were for him. And this was largely because of his strong pro-life position. Because he avoided labeling people and “playing the Pharisee” as Lincoln phrased it, he never came off as self-righteous. Instead, he put the child in the middle of the room and asked, in his inimitable way, doesn’t this child deserve to live?
Importantly, Reagan’s championing of the unborn child softened the media image of him as a heartless scourge of workers, the man who fired all those PATCO workers. When he was attacked for cuts to the federal budget, accused of lacking compassion, blue collar workers talked back to those talking heads on TV: “Yeah, but what about the unborn?”
Reagan’s strategy with Republican voters was based on his strong stand for limited government, his promise to cut taxes, and lower federal spending. He also called for a stronger U.S. defense. Those positions enabled him to win 96 percent of Republican voters.
So strengthened, he was free to go shopping for votes among the Democratic grassroots. To this day, large percentages of Democrats say they are pro-life. Every poll shows this. Such voters could be appealed to. Ronald Reagan got 24 percent of Democrats to vote for him.
Why didn’t Ken Cuccinelli make a point of going to minority voters with a pro-life and pro-marriage message? Why not share this message with the black, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities? Especially, why not carry this banner into minority churches? In every state where marriage has won - and we had 32 such victories - minority voters were the key to victory.
Wisconsin in 2006 is a prime example. That was the year of Nancy Pelosi’s biggest win, with a liberal tide running strongly nationwide. Even so, 59 percent of Badger State voters backed marriage. This amazing result was gained in Wisconsin, the birthplace of the American Progressives. This victory was only possible by embracing minority voters.
It is true that the strong Democratic Party ties among minorities and immigrants means the Republican Party must work harder. Just showing up during campaign seasons will not suffice to build trust.
Evidence seems to show that pro-life Republicans are learning. This year, Reince Priebus and the RNC reworked the schedule of their winter meeting to allow delegates to attend the March for Life. Time among impassioned activists should only embolden them to fight harder for the rights of the unborn. It’s a good thing, and it might just help them win this November.
Robert Morrison is a senior fellow at Family Research Council.