The fight over reproductive rights in Texas has reinvigorated progressive voices in the Lone Star State in ways unseen in many years, as evidenced by yesterday’s large, mid-day rally in Austin. The effort to turn back the Republican effort has also drawn the interest of Democrats at the national level – during state Sen. Wendy Davis’ (D) filibuster last week, none other than the president of the United States weighed in to offer his support.
But as David Nather reported, there’s a bit of a mismatch: while national Democrats are eager to use Texas as a rallying cry for activism, even for those nowhere near the state, national Republicans have sat on their hands.
The liberal side of the Texas abortion showdown has the two most powerful Democrats in Washington squarely in its corner: Barack Obama and Harry Reid – not to mention a Dixie Chick.
On the right: Rick Perry’s holding down the fort without much obvious help from national Republicans.
The DNC is involved in Texas; the RNC is not. Democratic congressional leaders have weighed in; Republican congressional leaders have not. And as Politico’s report added, a key party official in Texas “acknowledged there’s no behind-the-scenes help coming.”
Some of this is simply a matter of need, or in this case, the lack thereof – Republican policymakers in the state hold the reins of power, including majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office. Davis and her allies took advantage of procedural tactics to win a temporary reprieve, but GOP officials believe it’s only a matter of time before they approve the sweeping new restrictions that Gov. Rick Perry (R) wants.
But that’s not the only reason Republicans in D.C. are letting this story go by without comment. After all, it’s a national story and there’s nothing stopping prominent GOP leaders and/or the Republican National Committee from, at a minimum, offering Perry words of support and encouragement.
And yet, the party is biting its tongue, probably because it sees this as a political loser for Republicans at the national level.
The mismatch makes sense: Even abortion bills that poll well, like the one in Texas does, open the door to the kinds of comments that have hurt national Republicans repeatedly – from Rep. Trent Franks’s comments last month on the “very low” number of rape-related pregnancies to Todd Akin blowing his shot at a Senate seat over his “legitimate rape” remarks in 2012.
I understand the political calculus, but the GOP is playing a losing game. For one thing, it’s unlikely engaged voters are going to make much of a distinction – it’s not like Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are going to be shielded from criticism because their allies in Austin are pushing extreme measures on reproductive rights.
Indeed, it seems every time Republicans at the national level make a conscious effort to move away from the party’s “war on women,” efforts like this one in Texas remind the public of the GOP’s agenda all over again.
And then there’s the unfortunate flip side: by remaining silent, national Republican officials are angering the party’s far-right base, which expects them to speak up.
“You either fight and ask your leaders to fight on an issue that cuts your way or you just fold up and go home, which is what the national party wants to do,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “It really is fear. It really is simply, ‘We’re not going to go there.’”
“Now, you’ve got an issue that’s in your platform, that cuts your way with big margins. To be silent is a mistake,” Dannenfelser said.
The irony is, Perry and his allies are likely to win this fight in terms of legislative success, but it’s Republicans who are tied in knots and Democrats who are seeing a resurgence in grassroots enthusiasm and engagement.