MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Today is the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and around the country, as happens every year, there were demonstrations. Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, addressed thousands of people on the National Mall.
(Soundbite of address)
Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): Are you ready to march for life?
Senator BROWNBACK: Are you ready to say no to FOCA?
Senator BROWNBACK: Are you ready to say yes to life?
Senator BROWNBACK: Are you going to stop saying yes for - to life?
Senator BROWNBACK: We are going to continue this fight. We may have lost an election. We have not lost the war.
NORRIS: Senator Brownback mentioned FOCA, the Freedom Of Choice Act. That legislation would write Roe v. Wade into law and strike down most legal restrictions to abortion. When Barack Obama was a presidential candidate, he promised to sign it. Well, now that he is president, we wondered what Democratic control of the White House and Congress means for the Republican Party when it comes to the issue of abortion. Rich Galen is a Republican strategist. He says it probably won't change all that much.
Mr. RICH GALEN (Republican Strategist): The rhetoric that comes out during campaigns and the actual policies that come out of legislation are quite different. Sam Brownback, as an example, the clip you just played, is retiring from the Senate to go home and run for governor. So I think we can put that in that context. There is a good political reason for him to have led that rally today, because he's going home to Kansas to run for governor, and he wants those people, at least at the primary level, to be on his side.
NORRIS: The protests and the debate over abortion continues. But there is a debate within the GOP as to the role this issue should play within the party. It seems like there is a bit of a backlash within the party with some social conservatives who are now saying that abortion shouldn't be so closely associated with the GOP brand.
Mr. GALEN: I think that's something that's been going on for a long time. The evangelical wing of the Republican Party has not been the same since the Christian Coalition days when they really could mobilize and change an election. I can tell you that John McCain was pro-life - as was, of course, Sarah Palin. But it was never central to his political standing, and a lot of Republicans weren't even sure where he stood.
NORRIS: Now, there were other forces at work in this election. John McCain spent more time talking about earmarks and Joe the Plumber, frankly, than he spent talking about abortion, but there is a broad belief that he chose Sarah Palin, in large part, because she was acceptable to social conservatives because of her stance on abortion.
Mr. GALEN: But that's a different - that's a little different. I mean, that's balancing the ticket.
NORRIS: How is that different?
Mr. GALEN: Well, it's different because McCain didn't change his position or the way he spoke about it. But here is the thing that matters and the only thing that matters, you know, at this level of politics is, does it move votes? In America, everybody over the age of, pick a number, 14 has a very strong position on abortion. You're not going to change people's minds very much. So, what you do in politics at this point is you say, OK, it's about the same, the people who are one-issue voters that they will never vote for somebody who is pro-choice ever, ever, ever, pretty much are balanced in a general election with people who will never ever, ever vote for somebody who is pro-life. So, what you as a candidate do is you decide what your position is and then, you just, you're going to win some, you're going to lose some. It will more or less balance out in most places.
NORRIS: With the shift in this election cycle changing to focus primarily on the economy, going forward, can you imagine with this shift a Republican candidate for president who supports abortion?
Mr. GALEN: No, neither could I believe a Democratic candidate for president who is pro-life. Of course, I didn't think we'd ever have a black president in my lifetime, and happily, I was proved wrong. So, maybe those things will happen. But I think when you come down to the primary voters, the true believers in the parties, that those lines are pretty well and brightly drawn. Democrats will never nominate a pro-life candidate for president and the opposite is true. If that were not the case, I think Tom Ridge probably would have been the vice presidential pick for George W. Bush in 2000. Governor of a state, extraordinarily popular, a state that they really did want to win, Catholic but pro-choice, and they wouldn't put him on the ticket.
NORRIS: I want to go back to where we began with the Freedom of Choice Act. If Barack Obama makes good on that promise, would that inflame the forces of the right?
Mr. GALEN: Of course it would. It gives - what it does is it gives you a reason to go out and raise money. I mean, a lot of what happens on these issues, both conservative and liberal, is you look for something that can help you write the next email and say, we need money so we can fight back the forces of evil, whatever that particular view of evil is. But if he were to urge the Congress to do that, then I think that would become a big deal, but it would only be a big deal until it wasn't a big deal. And my guess is that it would be blocked in the Senate and would go back on the shelf again.
NORRIS: Rich Galen is a Republican strategist and a cyber-columnist for mullings.com. Richard, it's always good to talk to you. Thanks so much.
Mr. GALEN: Thank you for having me.
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