Abortion Position Puts DeSantis on Defense Against Scott, Pence in GOP Primary

AP Photo/Meg Kinnard

One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed about this primary is that, for all the talk of former president Donald Trump being the frontrunner and how Republican voters are going to side with him again, virtually no one is acting like he’s the frontrunner.


Meanwhile, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is trailing Trump but still has a bit of distance between him and the third-place candidate in the polls. Vice President Kamala Harris went to Florida to attack DeSantis over the state’s education standards. The media has been scrutinizing everything about him and his campaign. Gavin Newsom has attacked him. Trump is attacking him nonstop.

And the other candidates in the race are also dropping attacks on him in recent days. Tim Scott has already attacked DeSantis in a sadly misguided comment on the Florida education standards. Nikki Haley previously went after DeSantis on the Disney fight.

Scott is hitting DeSantis again this week, and Mike Pence is joining in. Both men are angling for the evangelical vote in the Republican primary, and an attack against him via the group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America seems like a good way in.

DeSantis told Kelly he would “be a leader with the bully pulpit to help local communities and states advance the cause of life,” but that he lacked confidence that Congress would do “anything meaningful” on the issue.

“I really believe now in our society it’s really a bottom-up movement, and that’s where we’ve had most success. — Iowa, South Carolina, Florida — and I think you’re going to continue to see a lot of good battles there.”

In response, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, criticized the governor, saying that calling for abortion restrictions despite obstacles in Congress “is where presidential leadership matters most.”

“Gov. DeSantis’s dismissal of this task is unacceptable to pro-life voters,” Dannenfelser said. “A consensus is already formed. Intensity for it is palpable and measurable. There are many pressing legislative issues for which Congress does not have the votes at the moment, but that is not a reason for a strong leader to back away from the fight.”


Scott and Pence joined in the attack.

Former Vice President Mike Pence posted on X, formally known as Twitter, that pro-life Americans will “have a champion in the White House!” if he wins the election, linking out to the SBA’s public statement lambasting DeSantis. A staunch anti-abortion candidate, Pence has said he’d support banning abortion nationally after six weeks of pregnancy, a restriction DeSantis enacted in Florida.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) piled on, saying that “Republicans should not be retreating on life.” In his post, he advocated for a 15-week restriction to “stop blue states from pushing abortion on demand.”

There were some Republicans who came to DeSantis’ defense, like Rep. Chip Roy of Texas.

The Governor stands up for life, recognizes Constitutional roll [sic] of states,” he said in his tweet. “[B]ut meanwhile, when we have major fight on the Hill, did @sbaprolife score against the NDAA in the Senate when all but 4 GOP Senators refused to force an end Biden’s abortion-tourism policy? No. MIA.”


The fight brings to the fore the divide in the pro-life movement over the politics of their cause. DeSantis and Roy represent the side that believes the issue is supposed to be left up to the states, while SBA and evangelical conservatives like Scott and Pence want to see a nationwide ban in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Both sides have merit, and it’s frankly unfair to accuse the former of being less pro-life than the latter.

There is little doubt that the state of the country is itself divided on the issue of abortion, and polling suggests that in the wake of the Dobbs decision, Republicans suffered a bit in the 2022 midterms because of it. Proposing a national abortion ban may be politically risky if you want as wide-ranging viability among voters as possible.

But that’s more of a general election position rather than a primary position. DeSantis, who championed a six-week abortion ban in Florida, is trying to thread a lot of needles at once, hoping to remain viable in the long run. For Scott and Pence, it’s not so easy. Both men need momentum, and evangelical voters are probably the most up-for-grabs bloc within the Republican base. In order to grow their numbers, they need to appeal to that group, and attacking DeSantis from this position is one of their best ways in.


That isn’t to say that they are attacking DeSantis from the right. They’re attacking him maybe from the religious right, but his position – that this is a state issue – is also a pretty conservative one (and I’ve mentioned that before). The campaigns have very different targets in mind.

This is where the campaigns have to be smart, however, and to be honest, I don’t think many of the campaigns have been all that smart in recent weeks. This is a hot-button issue that you can take a hard stance on now, but it can have an impact beyond the primary if any of them get there. The Democrats will almost assuredly use that position against them (in the most uncharitable way possible). No one wants a Republican who will run away from the abortion issue, as others have done in the past. But they do want someone who understands the issue and the importance of defending life. There is a way to be pro-life without scaring moderate and independent voters away.

But, considering that DeSantis is just starting to roll out his economic plan as part of a shift away from the anti-woke crusade, this will probably not be much of an issue going forward. However, just the headlines and statements are enough for Scott and Pence to make their pitches to evangelicals. Does anyone lose here? Not really. But it’s interesting how Republicans are trying to find their path forward.



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