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Tipsheet

Despite GOP Messaging Failure on Abortion, Rubio and DeSantis Proved to Be Pro-Life 'Role Models'

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Tuesday's midterm elections did not produce the Republican victories that many were expecting and hoping for, though members of Republican leadership still sought to pat themselves on the back. One bright exception to that is in Florida, where both Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio ran away with their reelection campaigns, trouncing their Democratic opponents by double digits. All of this could be specifically applied to the abortion issue specifically as well.

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Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America held a press call on Wednesday morning, during which their president, Marjorie Dannenfelser and Frank Cannon, a political strategist for the organization, highlighted the "political malpractice" committed by many Republicans. 

A memo from Dannenfelser referred to this in terms of the "ostrich strategy." This applied to Republican leadership, as well as Republican Senate nominee for Pennsylvania, Dr. Mehmet Oz, who conceded on Wednesday morning to his Democratic opponent, Senator-elect John Fetterman. 

In addition to highlighting how Republican needs to do a better job, it was also reminded that the pro-life movement was heavily outspent by the well-funded abortion industry, which has not only Democratic politicians and voters on its side, but the mainstream media as well.

According to the memo, Democrats spent $391 million on TV ads in the general election, while Republicans spent $11 million, a 35:1 spending ratio. SBA Pro-Life America and their Women Speak Out PAC spent $78 million. 

DeSantis and Rubio proved to be exceptions to that disappointment, though, especially Rubio.

"While we have examples of pro-life GOP candidates who were prepared and went on offense, there are also examples of candidates who were not prepared and took the ostrich strategy, burying their heads in the sand and running from the issue, allowing their opponents to define them," the memo read, mentioning Dr. Oz by name.

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This "political malpractice" was considered especially unacceptable, given that the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, was leaked in early May and officially handed down in late June. This gave candidates and party members months to act accordingly, something Democrats certainly ran with. 

Such Democratic strategies, as well as expressed disappointed in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whose own state voted on but failed to pass a pro-life ballot initiative, was discussed in a Thursday report from The New York Times, "How Democrats Used the Abortion Debate to Hold Off a Red Wave."

There were also comments, however, from Democratic strategist Celinda Lake, which illustrated how SBA Pro-Life America's strategy had a point to it:

Soon after the decision in June, Democratic Party committees invested in detailed polling, hoping to drill down on what exact messaging worked best. There was a clear conclusion: The most potent messaging for Democrats was to keep the conversation broad by casting Republicans as supporting a national ban on abortion, and avoid a discussion over the details about gestational week limits.

“Debating weeks is not where we want to be,” said Celinda Lake, the longtime Democratic pollster who conducted some of the surveys. “People are terrible at math and terrible at biology.”

That legislative strategy would be a 15-week abortion ban introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in September. While Democrats screamed to the high heavens about how it amounted to a "national abortion ban," the legislation pertains to a select but significant amount of abortions, based on when unborn children can feel pain. It also has exceptions. Rubio was credited with being the first member to sign on. 

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Abortion became a major issue during this campaign, not only in that the Democratic nominee, Rep. Val Demings, prioritized it, but because Rubio discussed it on his own when it comes to distinguishing himself from his opponent and pointing out how extreme she was. While the senator focused on a range of other important campaign issues, he focused on abortion and his own pro-life position as well, which included his endorsement from SBA Pro-Life America. 

Cannon, while answering a question from Townhall during the press call, applauded how Rubio "advertised on the issue" rather than "be[ing] silent in the age of television advertising." Not only did Rubio not remain silent on the abortion issue, "he answered directly, and he spent someone money on it," Cannon mentioned. 

Demings had claimed to support abortion up until "viability," but never fully defined what she meant by that. She also voted in favor of the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA), which will not merely codify Roe v. Wade as its supporters claim, but rather expand it. If signed into law, it would legalize abortion up until birth without limit, and with taxpayer dollars. It would also invalidate pro-life laws passed at the state level. 

These issues were raised at length during the debate last month in the final weeks before the election, in which Demings came off as not only radical, but desperate. This was perhaps no more clear than on the abortion issue. As Rubio highlighted Demings' record, she laughed at the senator, asking "how gullible do you really think Florida voters are." She then took on an angry tone as her wagged her finger when asked by the moderator what limits she would support. Other than the vague point about "viability," she just kept ranting about how Rubio "supports no exceptions."

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While Rubio does believe that unborn children are worthy of life regardless of how they are conceived, he does believe in bills with exceptions, such as Graham's legislation, for practicality's sake. 

During that debate, Rubio reminded he's "100 percent pro-life" and informed that every pro-life bill he's sponsored or voted for has exceptions "because that's what can pass and that's what the majority of the American people support." His priority and interest is in "saving human lives" and getting through what bills can pass and what Americans support, which are those with exceptions.

Cannon especially appreciated this tactic from Rubio, which he mentioned during the press call as well. Specifically, Cannon pointed out how "he didn't equivocate," which meant clear about his position in wanting to defend every unborn child, but that he would support bills with exception and did not support criminalizing women for abortion. "That to me is the simplicity and the eloquence of saying what you believe and being able to be direct," which is what made Rubio a model in their eyes. 

Dannenfelser made a similar point. In emphasizing that Rubio is "a role model," she continued with how "he is singularly articulate and also has a singular understanding in a place like Florida of the power of being clear about saying who he is and making sure he can define Demings without apology and without waiting too late, while so much damage was being done."

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Gov. DeSantis also signed 15-week abortion ban in Florida, which is tangled up in the courts. 

Another exception to disappointing Republicans who were mentioned in the call included Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), who won against Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley in the Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). Budd "accepted that gift" of supporting the 15-week abortion ban, according to Dannenfelser and Cannon. 

Senator-elect J.D. Vance, who will replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), made his support clear as well. This was particularly evident in how he framed the need for a basic federal standard while still respecting states' differences on abortion during his multiple debates against Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic nominee in that race. 

In looking ahead to the future, it was made clear during the press call that Republican presidential candidates for 2024 will not be able to win a primary without properly addressing this issue. 

"GOP pro-life candidates win in competitive races if they define their opponents as abortion extremists who support abortion on demand with NO limits, and contrast that with a clearly defined pro-life position centered around consensus such as pain-capable or heartbeat limits," was a point also highlighted in a memo by Dannenfelser, which was mentioned with regards to 2024 as well.

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