If the Republican party truly wants to re-brand itself as a broadly-appealing, inclusive group, it’s going to have to stop pressuring one of its lead 2016 presidential candidates to propose a 20-week abortion ban.
The candidate in question is Marco Rubio, the 42-year-old Floridian Senator who’s been making tongues wag, attracting praise and scorn from both sides of the aisle for his leading role in immigration reform.
The Cuban-American Senator has been a symbol of hope for the Republican Party, as they try to change their image from an out-of-touch boy’s club to a party that can appeal more broadly to women, Latinos, and young voters. That is until he fell from grace in the eyes of many a right-wing Republican for his role as a member of the Gang of 8, the bipartisan committee responsible for crafting the immigration reform bill that recently passed the Senate.
The Florida abortion bill that the Party would have Rubio sponsor is a strategic piece of legislation in the nationwide assault against women’s right to choose. It’s similar to the 20-week ban that just passed in Texas (despite the much-lauded efforts of Wendy Davis). Florida’s bill would place it firmly in the heart of battleground, making it one of the most restrictive states in the country on the issue.
Rubio has been vocal about his pro-life beliefs, as well as the fact that the issue should be addressed in the political arena. “At the end of the day our nation can never truly become what it fully was intended to be unless it deals with this issue squarely,” he said in February of 2012. “America cannot truly fulfill its destiny unless this issue is resolved. It’s that important.”
But despite his seemingly clear views on the issue, his thought process around whether or not to push this bill forward has bee opaque. Right wing groups have been urging Rubio to take a firm stance by proposing an anti-abortion bill for months. There has been much speculation about what he will do, but he has made no move.
His decision will ultimately be symbolic one. This particular bill has almost no chance of passing as Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, has no intention of scheduling the bill on the floor.
The major implication, then, of Rubio’s support of the bill will not be for the future of abortion in Florida, but for the outcome of Rubio’s presidential viability and the image of the Republican Party in general.
Some members of the GOP seem to feel that Rubio can redeem himself from the hit they perceive he took for supporting immigration reform by proposing the abortion bill. This may be true as far as securing the Republican presidential nomination is concerned.
The trouble is, once the primaries are done, Rubio will have to face off against a Democratic candidate to win the majority electoral votes of all Americans. And 50% of Americans (give or take) are women.
Obviously this is not to say that all women are pro-choice. But even amongst women who are not personally in favor of abortion, there is a growing feeling of fatigue with our bodies being used as political battlegrounds. As the son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio may be more sensitive than other white, male Republicans to how it feels when others are playing politics with your intimate life decisions.
Rubio’s dilemma is symbolic of the overall challenge the GOP is facing. On the one hand, they know they need to attract more minorities, young people, and women to their ranks. Many of these people the party hopes to attract have been put off by the Party’s stiff stance on social issues like gay marriage, immigration, and yes, abortion.
On the other hand, the GOP seems to hope to accomplish this goal without actually making any changes to their policy decisions or priorities. The perceived backlash against Rubio for supporting immigration reform is a prime example of this — it would appear the Party hopes to attract more Latino voters while minimizing the numbers of Latino citizens in the country.
And the most recent data suggest that Rubio has not actually taken a hit in the eyes of public opinion for his support of immigration — his fundraising has spiked since he pushed for immigration reform, a key indicator that constituents support his work more than the conservative members of his party would have the public believe.
Perhaps then, Rubio would do better to pay attention to his reservations, and leave abortion alone. The GOP pulse on what voters really think and want in today’s America has too often proven to be an inaccurate guide.