The GOP flips out about abortion

Republican presidential candidates are falling over each other to pander to the party's far-right base. Will it work?

Published May 11, 2007 12:35AM (EDT)

After years of accusing the Democrats of being spineless wafflers while George W. stayed the course straight to bedlam in Baghdad, it's interesting to watch the Republican primary shaping up to be a veritable big tent of flip-floppery -- with abortion at the center of the main high-wire act.

Today the Associated Press reported on Mitt Romney's response to the news that in 1994, his wife gave $150 to Planned Parenthood. On the one hand, Romney indicated that his wife's past donation was unsurprising, given that he was also pro-choice at the time. On the other hand, he suggested that his wife's positions are "not relevant" to his campaign. But in case there was any doubt about her current (irrelevant) position, he added that his wife is now head of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. Maybe it's just a fable about life in the circus -- a family that flip-flops together stays together.

According to the New York Times, the next spectacle vis-à -vis abortion views will spotlight Rudy Giuliani, whose bits of verbal contortion at the first Republican debate -- namely, that overturning Roe v. Wade would be OK and not overturning it would also be OK -- must have had his strategists smacking their heads. Now that there are reports of Giuliani having given money to Planned Parenthood not once but four times, his handlers have announced that he will return to the role of the strongman, stop hedging about his pro-choice position and play an unashamed pro-choice Republican. Calling it "a sharp departure from the traditional route to the Republican nomination in the last 20 years," the Times speculated that Giuliani's strategy will be to win the primaries in big states where social conservatives don't necessarily dominate, luring more moderate Democrats to his banner along the way.

In the meantime, there are the predictable side shows for those candidates who might be feeling upstaged. In response to Guiliani's support for Planned Parenthood, John McCain's strategist referred to the health advocacy group as "one of the most radical pro-abortion groups in the country." (If you ask me, for a group whose abortion services only constitute a meager 3 percent of all its health services, that's a tad hyperbolic.) Even the unsung golden boy of the social conservatives, Fred Thompson, has gotten questions on his pro-life stance lately, since a survey filled out by his 1994 Senate campaign claimed that he supported a woman's right to abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. Thompson has said he has no knowledge of the survey.

The idea that one of our two political parties has moved so far to the right that a pro-choice candidate from that party would be unelectable is pretty bizarre. Of course, this state of affairs may be good news for Democrats. Now that Republican presidential campaigns have become so much about currying favor with social conservatives while not completely alienating other voters, we're no doubt in for more acrobatics ahead, so we might as well enjoy the show.

So far, Romney remains the most distinguished contortionist. A snippet from a TIME profile of the former governor:

"Whereas Romney dedicated himself in Massachusetts to 'full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens,' he now describes himself as 'a champion of traditional marriage.' As a candidate for Governor in a state known as Taxachusetts, Romney dismissed the idea of an antitax pledge as a gimmick and refused to sign it; as a GOP presidential contender, he was the first in the 2008 field to put his name on one.

"In Massachusetts he bucked the National Rifle Association by supporting the Brady Bill and an assault-weapons ban, boasting, 'I don't line up with the N.R.A.' Lately what he brags about is that he joined the gun-rights organization as a life member -- last August. Romney has been so eager to prove his Second Amendment bona fides that he boasted in New Hampshire, 'I've been a hunter pretty much all my life.' But then his campaign admitted he had actually hunted only twice, once as a teenager and then last year, on a trip with GOP donors. That was followed by still more clarification: Romney insisted he has hunted small animals for many years, though he does not actually own a firearm. 'Leave it to Mitt Romney to shoot himself in the foot with a gun he doesn't own,' wrote Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi."

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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