The Republican Party is facing a dilemma as the new election season begins: how to navigate the politics of abortion. While hardline anti-abortion policies may be popular with conservative primary voters, they could ultimately alienate the broader set of voters needed to win the presidency. The conflict is unfolding across America, but nowhere more than in Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law one of the nation’s toughest abortion bans. If the courts ultimately allow the new measure to take effect, it will soon be illegal for Florida women to obtain an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is before most realize they’re pregnant.
DeSantis’ position stands in sharp contrast to some Republican White House hopefuls, most notably former President Donald Trump, who are downplaying their support for anti-abortion policies for fear they may ultimately alienate women or other swing voters in the 2024 general election. Recent electoral results suggest that voters aren’t pleased. Republicans have suffered painful losses in recent weeks and months across multiple states in elections that focused, at least in part, on abortion.
Privately, at least, strategists involved with Republican presidential campaigns concede that the GOP is on the wrong side of the debate as it currently stands. While popular with Republican primary voters, public polling consistently shows that the broader collection of voters who decide general elections believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Anti-abortion activists have been particularly vocal in warning Republican presidential candidates that the party’s base will not tolerate any weakness on abortion given that GOP leaders have been vowing for decades to ban abortion rights if given the chance.
There are no easy answers as leading Republicans like DeSantis and even Trump face tremendous political pressure from the left and the right. Such pressure ensures that the issue will remain central to the 2024 campaign as Republican presidential prospects begin to fan out across America to court primary voters. Republican officials in Washington are still looking for answers as well. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel declined to comment for this article. Her team pointed to a 7-month-old memo from her office suggesting that Republicans should highlight Democratic officials’ opposition to abortion restrictions of any kind, which the memo described as “an extreme stance.”
Campaigning in Iowa this week, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson tried to sidestep questions about his support for aggressive abortion restrictions. Hutchinson said that voters are more concerned with national defense, curbing domestic federal spending and accelerating U.S. energy production than abortion.
Overall, the Republican Party is in a difficult position regarding the politics of abortion, with no easy answers in sight.