Since the Reagan era, the GOP has cynically fanned the flames of anti-choice extremism, without paying a large political price for the deep unpopularity of that position.
Those days are over, with a Trump-packed Supreme Court supermajority on the cusp of overturning Roe v. Wade—and with it a fundamental right that most Americans support.
The highest price for this unprecedented nullification of civil rights will, of course, be paid by the millions of Americans who stand to lose their reproductive autonomy.
But the political price to be paid by the GOP for engineering such a hugely unpopular judicial action in the service of the party’s “culturally conservative” base could also be extraordinarily high.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan enticed the then-nascent religious right to join his political coalition by becoming the first presidential candidate to become a full-throated advocate for the overruling of Roe.
Reagan was not an obvious choice to serve as the hero to culturally conservative Catholics and evangelicals. (This was particularly so, given that his opponent, Jimmy Carter, was probably the first avowedly evangelical president.)
A divorced former Hollywood actor, Reagan as governor of California had signed a bill liberalizing the state’s abortion law, and he was largely associated with the near-libertarian politics of Sen. Barry Goldwater.
But during the 1980 campaign, Reagan advocated for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion. That move cemented the rock solid alliance between the GOP and newly politically engaged right-wing Christians—many of whom came to be labeled Reagan Democrats—because Reagan’s “cultural” positions enticed them to switch parties.
From the outset of this alliance, however, the GOP had a fundamental problem. While the anti-choice position was essential to attracting Christian conservatives to the Republican Party—it was not popular among most voters.
Indeed, over the succeeding decades when the GOP became ever more associated with anti-choice extremism, a majority of Americans have consistently remained pro-choice, with about 59 percent of adults believing that abortion should be legal in most circumstances. In fact, they’ve come to take reproductive rights for granted. Many observers (including Sen. Goldwater in 1992) have long recognized the Republican Party was putting itself in a precarious position by standing in opposition to a majority of voters on a critical issue.
The fact that the GOP’s opposition to reproductive rights is critical to retaining its base, while being at odds with the views of the majority of voters, has always posed a potential political land mine for the party. It is one, however, that Republicans have managed to avoid setting off—due to a combination of cynicism on the part of politicians and the savviness of allies on the Supreme Court.
“The party’s right-wing base increasingly insisted on populating the Court with true believing jurists who could be relied upon to…
Read Full Story At: The Daily Beast.