Ladies, Florida Senator Marco Rubio needs to borrow control of your reproductive organs for a little while to regain his conservative credentials; don’t worry, Harry Reid will give them back to you.
The Weekly Standard is reporting that Rubio will introduce a Senate bill to ban all abortions after twenty weeks, a cynical maneuver to repair his reputation with the far right base that elected him. Rubio knows the bill won’t pass; in fact, he’s counting on its ineffectuality, allowing him to strut like a lawmaker without the perils of lawmaking. That such a move comes courtesy the further degradation of women’s health and autonomy is too bad for them.
A tea party darling only two years ago, Rubio is now in a heap of trouble with the same folk for recognizing the electoral and moral necessity of passing immigration reform. Once the right’s best chance for acclimating the party to the changing demographics that were withering them nationally, he has found that straddling the moderate and extreme flanks of the GOP more difficult than anybody thought. It’s gotten so bad for him that at a recent tea party rally, the very mention of Rubio’s name was so routinely heckled you’d think he were a Kennedy.
This scribe still bets Rubio will ultimately benefit from his role in immigration reform, but until then he clearly feels the need to salve his cranky base, and quick. The go-to legislation all the GOP kids are passing these days is the gratuitously restrictive abortion bill, a bill so insidious it was found lurking like a brown recluse inside an anti-Sharia law bill in the North Carolina legislature yesterday. Similar legislation was passed in the Republican-controlled House last month, and is under consideration in Ohio and Texas.
There’s a certain ingenuity to Rubio’s gambit. An abortion ban goes nowhere in Harry Reid’s Senate, and should it somehow sneak through it will never be signed into law by President Obama. It’s the anti-immigration bill: Rubio gets credit simply for sponsoring it, without worrying about even the possibility of it passing.
But this ruse is too clever by half. An abortion bill that passes hurts women, but an abortion bill that doesn’t pass is much more harmful to conservatives, mostly by triggering public discussion of an issue that backfires on Republicans who find themselves in the unfortunate possession of a mouth. Trent Franks so tongue-tied himself describing his objection to the rape exception last month that he was catapulted from his own bill, and we all remember the recent case of The Congressman Who Brought Up Fetal Masturbation For Some Reason. Both these, er, gaffes occurred during Republican-led congressional debate over the Republican House’s abortion bill; they were unforced errors that became humiliating headlines. There’s no reason to think that a Senate with Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Jim Inhofe, men seduced by their own endless voices, will fare any better in front of a C-SPAN camera.
Meanwhile, down in Texas (and doesn’t every story like that this have a “Meanwhile, down in Texas…”?) an attempt by Governor Rick Perry and Lieutenant Governor Not-Ted Cruz to shoehorn an abortion ban into an end-of-year special session induced a viral protest that promoted Democrat Wendy Davis into national prominence and rattled the subject of abortion out of the conservative spookhouse and back into the Democrats’ domain of women’s rights. And these are all just the examples from the past three weeks.
Fred Barnes, who broke the news of Rubio’s bill, touts the benefits such legislation will have in engaging the GOP’s base in the 2014 midterms. Possibly. What it doesn’t do is a thing for the GOP’s supposed rebranding, which at this point feels more like an old wives’ tale than something that ever existed at the intersection of space and time. The GOP may rule like kings by winning in gerrymandered districts and squatting in state legislatures, but it can only do so by hurting its longterm national prospects. Candidates in the mold of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdoch come up through state offices where stuff like pointless abortion proposals play well, but they deplete the GOP’s bench in the process. The more the Republican Party defaults to anti-abortion legislation, the more they limit themselves to this shrinking and marginalized base, and the more they’ll have to answer for its every stupid iteration in 2016 when they’d rather be focusing on taxes and jobs.
To the extent that Rubio is aware of any of this, he doubtlessly doesn’t care. This abortion ban is a stopgap, a bouquet of flowers handed to an angry spouse. Whether it ends up embarrassing a Senator or helping a House Republican next November is something for others to worry about later. Unfortunately, the bill’s most immediate effect will be to fuel the several fires of state abortion bills like those under consideration in Ohio and Texas, where a national echo could bolster local efforts. Rubio may never have to worry about the consequences of his own legislation passing, but millions of women, many of them below the poverty line, will lose access to health care because of the laws that do pass—and all because once upon a time, a Senator from Florida wanted an immigration bill.
[h/t The Weekly Standard]
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