Is Abortion A Winning Issue For Republicans In 2020?
NOEL KING, HOST:
Abortion is shaping up to be a key issue in the 2020 election. Several states have put or are putting strict measures into place. Last week, Alabama signed into law one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country, and Missouri lawmakers passed a near-total ban that will now go to the governor. Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that he is, quote, "strongly pro-life." But he did list a few exceptions, including rape and incest. The Alabama law forbids abortion, even in those cases. 2020 Democratic candidates have been quick to speak out against Alabama's measure. Here's Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on the campaign trail in Georgia.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Any Democrat who expects to win the presidency must answer definitively where they stand on this issue.
KING: All right. Joining me now is Republican strategist Scott Jennings and Democratic consultant Maria Cardona. Good morning to you both.
MARIA CARDONA: Good morning, Noel.
SCOTT JENNINGS: Good morning.
KING: Scott, let me start with you. I want to read a bit more from the president's tweet because it was very interesting. He goes on to address people on the right, saying, quote, "we must stick together and win for life in 2020. If we are foolish and don't stay united as one, all of our hard-fought gains for life can and will rapidly disappear." Is this an issue that Republicans can win on?
JENNINGS: I believe it is an issue that Republicans can and will win on. I think what the president was doing was reaffirming the long-standing, mainstream position of the Republican Party. And that is to be the pro-life party, but to be reasonable and to accept the exceptions of rape and incest. I think on the Democratic side, what Republicans see is that when state legislatures or state actors, such as Governor Northam in Virginia, or in New York, with Governor Cuomo, when they've gone to the fringe extreme, their national party has adopted that. What President Trump was doing was stepping in to make sure people understand that Republicans are the same pro-life - reasonable pro-life party they've always been.
KING: Well, yeah. He suggested that the Alabama measure goes too far. But this is a Republican-led legislature. So what does that actually mean for the Republicans? They disagree about this.
JENNINGS: Right. What it means for the Republican Party is that the president sets our agenda. And so you saw there him reaffirming the Republican Party's longstanding position on abortion to have the exceptions. I think the core difference here is when Democrat state actors have gone too far, their presidential candidates have accepted that fringe extreme position. And Republicans actually have a leader that is rejecting that fringe extreme position. I think that's going to be a key issue in the '20 election.
KING: Maria, let me turn this over to you. Is there room in this Democratic primary for differing views on the question of abortion? Or do you think all 20-plus candidates are going to need to take a hard line on support for abortion rights?
CARDONA: Oh, I definitely think that all the candidates will express, very definitively, their support for a woman's right to choose. That's not a hard-left position. That is actually mainstream American position. The majority of the American people agree with Roe v. Wade and believe that it should be maintained as settled Supreme Court law as it is today. The problem with what my good friend Scott is saying is that all of the bills - most of the bills that are being introduced in state legislatures today are to the extreme right because they don't allow for a lot of these exceptions. They say that by six weeks then that is a living being that a woman cannot do anything about, if even her life is in danger. The problem with that is that so many women don't even know they're pregnant by six weeks.
KING: These are the so-called heartbeat bills, yeah?
CARDONA: Exactly. And so what the Republican Party is doing is that they are going against what the mainstream of America is - against even what mainstream - a lot of Republican women believe that a woman should have a right to choose, which is why this issue, I believe, is going to be a losing one for Republicans because Democrats are now going to be able to paint them all with these heartbeat bills, with these extreme right-wing bills that don't even allow for an exception of rape or incest.
And even though President Trump says that he doesn't side with those - like you said, Noel - these are Republican legislatures that are passing these bills in many states, and the Democratic Party's going to be able to lay all of these bills at the foot of Republicans. And that's exactly what they're going to be doing.
KING: Last question for you both. With everything else going on in this country - and there's a lot - how important do you think the issue of abortion can be in the 2020 election? Maria, let me start with you.
CARDONA: Sure. Well, again, I think that depends on Republicans. I think that, clearly, Democrats are going to continue to fight for a woman's right to choose because that is about families, and that is about families and American women's well-being.
KING: Scott Jennings, let me quickly turn this over to you. How important in 2020?
JENNINGS: Very important. I think President Trump's leadership on this is going to set the tone for the Republican Party. I think after feeling like they were left in the wilderness for eight years, pro-life voters feel like they finally have a president that is allowing them to be full participants in our national politics. They are excited about what the party is doing. They are excited to vote. And I think President Trump's going to have those voters again when he's on the ballot next November.
KING: Democratic consultant Maria Cardona, Republican strategist Scott Jennings. Thank you both so much.
CARDONA: Thank you, Noel.
JENNINGS: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.