In the wake of a predictable GOP filibuster of a Senate bill seeking to reverse the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, Republicans are publicly complaining that Democrats are trying to “change the subject” from this or that issue (real or imaginary) they want to talk about, but are privately conceding the peril for their team of any extended conversation involving reproductive rights. At National Journal Sophie Novack reports they’d just as soon not go there:
Republican strategists who were around for [Todd] Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment in 2012 warn candidates to tread carefully on the issue. The GOP’s continued meetings on how to connect with women show the party is still haunted by his loss, and members have denounced his return to the political scene with the release of his new book.
“The fact that the Supreme Court made the decision—Republicans should let that stand and not engage in the debate. It will get them nowhere and take them off the message of real issue Americans are concerned about,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and former spokesman for House and Senate leadership. “I think Republicans saw what happened with Todd Akin—it was a stupid and bad campaign strategy. It would be political malpractice for Republicans to engage with that kind of conversation.”
This is another way of admitting that the effort begun in 2012 to reframe the GOP’s extremist position on reproductive rights as a defense of “religious liberty” hasn’t worked as well as party strategists had hoped. Indeed, by shifting the focus from abortion to “abortifacient” birth control, the “religious liberty”-driven attack on Obamacare’s contraception coverage mandate has actually increased opportunities for Republican pols to say things that sound stupid or crazy to a big percentage of the population.
Was Akin’s disastrous “legitimate rape” commentary really any farther from the mainstream than talk about IUDs being little Holocaust machines? Is there really any way to frame the the unchanging extremist position on abortion (life begins when ovum fertilized; ban all abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest) most Republicans embrace in a way that doesn’t hurt the the party with swing voters generally and single women in particular? I don’t think so. But I also think “don’t talk about it” demands like Bonjean’s will infuriate the antichoice activists who set the GOP’s position in the first place and convince them to demand even more demonstrations of loyalty.