Marco Rubio’s second most memorable remark at last Saturday’s debate, answering a question on abortion, may give us more lessons on how Republicans should address the abortion issue.
Rubio was confronted by the debate moderator for defending the right to life of babies even if they are conceived in rape.
Despite a Thursday letter to all campaigns by Marjorie Dannenfelser of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List urging Republicans not to attack each other for taking the pro-life view, both Jeb Bush and Chris Christie doubled down on attacking Rubio during the debate.
And Rubio again refused to back down, giving an answer that Daniel Allott of the Washington Examiner called “brilliant” for acknowledging the difficulty of the issue, standing by his principles and, as Dannenfelser specifically recommended, turning the attack on to Hillary Clinton as the real extremist on the issue. No other candidate stepped in to address the controversy.
Railing against the lack of questions to Hillary on this issue, Rubio challenged, “Why doesn’t the media ask Hillary Clinton why she believes that all abortion should be legal, even on the due date of that unborn child?”
This tactic garnered a prompt response. Hillary was confronted with Rubio’s question the next morning on “Face the Nation.”
But despite calling Rubio’s attack “pathetic,” she didn’t list a single abortion restriction that she favors. Hillary said she is for “making abortions safe and legal, the exceptions that are appropriate that should be looked into.” And she cited the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, saying, “Reasonable kinds of restrictions can be imposed as long as the life and health of the mother are taken into account and that’s what the law is today.”
There’s an important lesson to be learned from this exchange by all the Republican candidates (and it’s not that they should favor abortions in rape cases). The lesson is that when Republicans go on offense on abortion, they win.
Hillary did not get a single tough question on her extreme abortion views for the entire campaign season until Rubio pressed for it. And Hillary’s answer was unhelpful to her on several levels.
She didn’t actually affirm any abortion restrictions, such as on partial-birth abortion, which she mentioned only to recall women who she said should have been able to abort, or on the current Republican proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Her reliance on Roe v. Wade was not a rebuttal of her extreme view, since the Supreme Court in that case and Doe v. Bolton defined women’s “health” so broadly as to encompass emotional health and family and social inability to have more children — essentially leading to abortion-on-demand. She even changed Bill Clinton’s old slogan that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” and dropped “rare” from the formulation.
But regardless of her answer details, the mere fact that Hillary had to talk about abortion on defense about her own extremism is an automatic victory. That’s the big takeaway for any pro-life Republican candidate heading into a general election.
Matt Bowman is an attorney who practices pro-life and constitutional law in Washington, D.C.