Analysis: The GOP at a Crossroads and What it Means for the Pro-Life Movement
Recent reports indicate that at least 30,000 registered Republicans have dropped their GOP affiliation since the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
WASHINGTON — During his final days in office, President Donald Trump floated the idea of founding his own political party - a move that would certainly wreak havoc for Republicans. It’s unclear whether this idea will materialize. It is also unclear what will become of the QAnon adherents and other far-right supporters of the former president.
But even without a potential new political party, the GOP faces an uncertain future, with deep fractures and serious questions of identity needing to be addressed. And the answers to those questions could have significant implications for the pro-life movement.
Recent reports indicate that at least 30,000 registered Republicans have dropped their GOP affiliation since the January 6 attack on the Capitol – and that number could be much higher, as only a few states have updated their voter registration data.
These numbers could mean serious challenges for a party that was already struggling with membership. Last year, the number of independent registered voters exceeded registered Republicans for the first time. Meanwhile, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a full 10 percentage points, even before the wave of Republicans abandoning the party in recent weeks.
As they look to the future, Republicans must now grapple with the identity of the party in a post-Trump era, while also looking to expand party membership. There are at least three competing visions for the future, each proposed by a different Republican figure.
One possible path forward for the GOP is being advocated by Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.
Shortly before the November election, Sasse acknowledged that he was not campaigning for Trump’s re-election, because he believed the polling to show it was a lost cause, and he was more concerned about the Senate and the future of the Republican Party.
Sasse said that although he had collaborated with Trump on various nominations and policies over the past four years, he had serious concerns that the president’s values were “deficient” from a conservative standpoint. The senator said he was concerned about the Republican Party tying itself to Trump’s brand and voiced fears that Trump’s presidency was “ultimately driving the country further to the left.”
As a solution to the division and crisis of identity, Sasse has called for a greater emphasis on the Constitution and a return to “basic civics” - the foundational principles underlying the country’s very framework.
Sasse’s constitutional focus and conservative voting record, which often favor non-governmental solutions to social problems, have also included a strong focus on pro-life efforts. He has championed numerous pro-life bills in the Senate, including one to protect babies born alive after failed abortions.
Pro-life advocates would likely find a Sasse-led Republican Party to be reliable in its legislative priorities, judicial appointments, and regulatory efforts. Many pro-lifers may see this path forward as a continuation of the political pro-life victories of the Trump presidency, albeit without much of the inflammatory rhetoric and controversy of the past four years.
Another way forward for the Republican Party is that offered by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. A Washington Post article last week suggested that Hogan, a Catholic, has his eye on a 2024 presidential run and wants to reshape the Republican Party on his way to the White House.
Hogan has stated not only a desire to “purge the party of those radical extremists [QAnon adherents],” but also to shift to a more centrist stance on key social issues in the hopes of courting moderate voters and growing the voter base.
Among these issues is abortion. Hogan told the Washington Post he believes Republicans focus too much on the issue. Hogan says he personally opposes abortion, but believes it should remain legal and is not interested in challenging Maryland’s permissive abortion laws. In 2019, he was criticized by local Right to Life groups when he declined to veto a law that was intended to counter federal prohibitions on some funding to abortion clinics.
If Hogan’s record is any indication of what he envisions for the future of the Republican Party, it could spell bad news for pro-life advocates, particularly those who have bet heavily on the GOP as a political ally. A Hogan-esque Republican Party may not push to advance legal abortion like the Democrats have pledged to do, but it also might do little to advance pro-life legislation and other policies.
A third path forward for the GOP is that presented by Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Although Rubio’s ascent to the Senate just over a decade ago was fueled by Tea Party enthusiasm, the senator has made a name for himself in the last 10 years by eschewing hardline stances and working across the aisle.
While Republicans are sometimes criticized as ignoring many of the pressing issues affecting American families, Rubio has worked to offer creative solutions to these issues, often presenting proposals that are more palatable to conservatives who favor small government solutions.
Rubio was part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators who crafted a major 2013 immigration reform bill. He worked with Elizabeth Warren on a 2019 bill to help tackle the student debt crisis. He championed a paid parental leave bill that would have allowed Americans to pull from their own Social Security to fund time off after the birth or adoption of a baby.
It is worth noting that these legislative efforts have largely amounted to dead ends. If Rubio is to lead the GOP into the future, he will need to convince other party leaders of the value of compromise and some degree of government intervention in solving important social issues.
But perhaps the biggest impact Rubio might have on the Republican Party can be seen in the way his language has shifted in recent years to reflect Catholic Social Teaching, particularly the writings of Pope John Paul II and Pope Leo XIII’s1891 encyclical Rerum novarum.
In a series of speeches and essays in the last two years, Rubio has repeatedly called for a model of “common good economics” that places social health and human flourishing at its center.
Rubio has criticized the political right for promoting pursuit of profit divorced from community investment, and has criticized the political left for promising to enforce certain economic outcomes through socialist mandates. His own proposals focus on the dignity of human work and policies to incentivize businesses to reinvest returns in job growth and local communities.
Rubio’s ideas could transform the Republican stance on economic matters. They could also affect the political rhetoric of the pro-life movement. A Rubio-led GOP might undertake efforts to fight legal abortion, while also working to support families and expectant mothers, through initiatives such as health care reform, parental leave, and expanded child tax credits. Such an approach may particularly delight certain pro-life groups who have insisted for years that the movement needs to broaden its focus in precisely this manner.
Ultimately, it may take several years for the Republican Party to shape its image moving forward, and new figures may rise to prominence in that time, changing the direction of the party. While there is much that remains to be seen, interested observers may find that Sasse, Hogan, and Rubio are three pivotal players to watch as the process unfolds.