The 2016 election demonstrated that two unpopular concepts failed miserably for Democrats. The first was obviously Obamacare which was the driving force to keep Republicans in charge of Congress. The second was militant pro-abortion rhetoric that unified the evangelical vote to support an unrepentant lukewarm Christian for President.
Obamacare will either be gone or partially dismantled by the time the 2018 elections roll around. How the Republicans handle that situation will determine if they can keep the Senate and possibly even the House. The abortion issue is the one that should worry every conservative following the Women’s March. It appears the left is quickly learning their lessons. Assuming they realize how to move forward, we could see a continuation of the cultural shift that Barack Obama helped initiate, one that works from a position of opposition to the current President instead of in unison with the previous one.
It’s important for conservatives to understand the lessons the left is learning so we can be better prepared to fight them in the future. They’re weak now, but if they regroup behind the information they now have, it’s the complacency of conservatives that could rush the Democrats into office in 2018 and 2020.
Lesson #1: Militant Pro-Abortion Views were Premature
This is going to be very hard for pro-lifers to hear, but it’s better to know going in rather than continuing to be blind to the course that America’s taking. Pro-life views are becoming less popular. One might point to the election, recent victories with state laws, and the reduction in abortions in recent years to say that I’m wrong, but let’s look at what’s really happening here.
The left overplayed their hand. Following other victories with gay marriage and the changing sentiment towards transgender issues, they thought that America was ready for “abortion on demand” as the way going forward. We’re not. That doesn’t mean that the American sentiment is shifting back to pro-life. It simply means America isn’t ready for the militant pro-abortion perspectives the far-left is promoting.
Most Americans fall somewhere close to the fence. They’re either pro-life with exceptions (rape, incest, life of the mother) as well as being in favor of early abortion techniques like post-sex “contraception,” or they’re pro-choice up to a certain moral barrier such as fetal viability or the standard 20- or 24-week cutoff.
The pro-life side of the fence cannot budge. We’re stalwart in our beliefs against abortion; the only wiggle room is whether or not to accept exceptions. The pro-abortion side has a much wider canvas upon which to paint their message. They can retreat to embrace a woman’s right to choose by accepting the 24-week cutoff as potentially acceptable within their rhetoric. They’ll never truly embrace it, but politically speaking they know that if they were to abandon unpopular concepts like partial-birth abortion or third-trimester dismemberment, they could win over those voters who are closer to the fence.
This would be only a temporary retreat. Once they reacquire power, they’ll renew their push towards abortion-on-demand. However, until they can achieve a greater foothold over cultural acceptance of their ideas, they will play more towards the middle knowing the pro-life side cannot do so.
Lesson #2: Bundling
We’ve seen in many of today’s speeches at the various Women’s March events that abortion is being worked into the talking points rather than being a focus. This allows them to attach their abortion beliefs to more universally popular liberal ideas like immigration and equal pay for equal work.
It’s bundling. I have a landline phone that’s essentially never used because it’s part of my cable and internet bundle. Leftists are doing the same thing with abortion. That’s why they were so adamantly opposed to anti-Trump pro-life women’s groups participating in their marches. A woman who is pro-life but otherwise liberal is unacceptable to them. They can be in favor of a border wall and even be opposed to environmental issues as long as they’re pro-choice. This hypocrisy is by design. The abortion issue is the unpopular concept they want everyone to have in their bundle.
Lesson #3: Attack the Messenger, not the Message
They tried a variation of this with the election. Attacking Trump and anyone supporting him worked within their own circles, but it also pushed undecided voters in his direction. Why? Because they attacked the messenger the wrong way. In essence, they attacked the message in their attacks of the messenger.
This is a hard one to understand, so let’s look at an example of how the messaging was done in the past versus how the messaging will likely be handled in the future.
2016 election messaging: “Donald Trump is at war with women. He will attempt to take away our reproductive rights and get involved where he doesn’t need to get involved: our uteri.”
Future election messaging: “Donald Trump is at war with women. He’s made it impossible for many women to have abortions even if their lives are in danger as a result.”
In the old message, their attack on the messenger still embraced their message of “reproductive rights,” a message that is easily questioned by even moderates who wonder about the rights of the preborn baby. The new message takes away the doublespeak and calls it what it is: abortion. However, it shifts the attack back to the messenger himself by invoking the isolated occasions where having an abortion would have preserved a woman’s life. This message, particularly when invoked without context, is much more powerful in building anti-Trump sentiment.
The old message tries to promote their message while attacking Trump. The future message will just attack Trump and justify it with ideas that don’t require someone to embrace a pro-abortion stance. Even those on the far-right would have a hard time demanding that a woman must give birth and sacrifice her own life as a result.
Conveying an understanding of how conservatives can prepare for and defend against the coming pro-abortion shift in strategy deserves its own article, but I’ll give you a quick breakdown here. This battle must be taken out of a political context and returned to the cultural arena where it belongs.
Long-term, we cannot win this battle legally. As we’ve seen over the last 24 years, the left and right trade control in eight-year cycles. That means that any protections that are put in place against abortion can be reversed in the future.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for pro-life laws. Any law that saves a single preborn child’s life is worthwhile. It simply means that we cannot rely on political discourse and winning elections to save those lives in the future. This is a cultural battle. We’re not just fighting for laws. We’re fighting for the soul of the nation.
It’s time for the pro-life movement to double down on education, outreach, and religious engagement. Every law that we pass against abortion is temporary, but if we can win the hearts and minds of more people, we can build permanent infrastructures of pro-life attitudes that perpetuate though the generations.