Veteran political reporter and Capital Gang host Robert Novak said Bush is a convinced pro-lifer, but told the Register he thinks Bush is pro-life “very much in the way that Ronald Reagan was pro-life—that he does-n't put the highest priority on it.”

Novak described Bush's cabinet picks as “clever,” saying the finished product is “modified to meet the political realities.”

“He will be for the kind of anti-abortion, pro-life measures and proposals that have popular support,” Novak said, suggesting parental notification and consent bills and bans on partial-birth abortions and government funding for abortion as examples of the pro-life measures Bush can be expected to promote.

Novak called critics of Bush's cabinet “unrealistic and extreme” for not seeing the difficulty the incoming president faces in leading a party divided over abortion.

“You have to live in the real world,” said Novak, a recent Catholic convert. “I am strongly pro-life and my wife is a volunteer in a crisis pregnancy center, but the enemy is not George W. Bush and it's not the Republican Party. The enemy is NARAL and the machinery of the Democratic Party.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot also doubts that Bush will give a high level of priority to abortion, but thinks pro-lifers should be optimistic about his agenda.

“What I would expect to see is that on the difficult calls, Bush will take a quiet pro-life position,” Gigot said, adding that he thinks Bush is “personally convinced, unlike his father,” on the importance of the pro-life cause.

Like Novak, Gigot expects Bush to be pro-life in the style of Ronald Reagan, “who addressed pro-life rallies and supported them publicly but did not make it one of his premiere agenda items.”

“We have had 20 years of abortion politics and we are frozen in a kind of stalemate,” Gigot said. “I think what pro-lifers have come to understand is that on a legislative front, you have to be incremental.”

Gigot said the biggest fights in Bush's tenure are likely to be over his Supreme Court nominees. “If he chooses people who are on record as having supported the overthrow of Roe v. Wade,” the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist said, the nomination “will be opposed by every Democratic senator,” and a handful of Republicans.

Novak and Gigot agreed that despite the presence of several pro-abortion Republicans in his cabinet, the Bush administration looked more pro-life than Ronald Reagan's ever did.

“I don't think there is any doubt about that,” Gigot said, adding, in a reference to Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, “it doesn't get any better than that.”

Novak, for his part, said pro-lifers who hold Reagan up as their greatest advocate are looking through the “dim misty recollection of nostalgia.”

“He didn't want to make an issue about abortion and he didn't do much about it, Novak said.

And what might Bush do?

“I think he will try to get done in the first two years the issues I mentioned. I think that's more important than getting out there and talking about a Constitutional amendment [to ban abortion] which we all know has no chance of passing.”

— Brian McGuire