RNC boss inadvertently teaches Republicans how to talk about abortion

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

In the wake of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, et al., Republicans are still grappling with how to talk about social issues. Along those lines, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus was on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd today, and I think his comments could be instructive.

Todd asked Priebus about abortion, introducing the premise that it was the issue that defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia’s gubernatorial election last month. Priebus rejected this premise (often a wise move debate move if you believe it’s a false construct), and then proceeded to respond with this:

“I want to make sure we set the record straight. We believe in life. … The platform is what it always was and I never advocated changing. I have made sure we have a tone of grace, love, and respect. 80 percent of the public and most overwhelmingly most women agree that abortion after four months should be illegal. Terry McAuliffe didn’t agree with that. It’s a matter of choosing the way you want to speak about many of the issues that are on the table.”

He may have informally demonstrated how Republicans should communicate social issues. By dissecting the above paragraph, we can see that — in very short order — Preibus does the following:

1). Strongly reaffirms his support of the Right to Life (Why this matters? First, if someone’s top issue is advocating a pro-choice position, then they’re never going to vote for you, anyway. What is more, showing hesitation about core beliefs only makes enemies of your friends — and causes your enemies to smell blood, thus, emboldening them.)

2). Talks about the issue in a compassionate manner (as he says, with “a tone of grace, love and respect.”)

3). Avoids the unpopular aspects of his view (say, for example, transvaginal ultrasounds), and pivots to areas where the vast majority of Americans agree with him (that abortion after four months should be illegal.)

Now, it’s fair to say not everyone should attempt this formulaic maneuver. For one thing, this is a way to be popular — not a way to change the culture. Additionally, what works for operatives and candidates (using talking points to parry a question) would be deemed unacceptable hackery when coming from columnists.

But I would say that this 3-step method is the wise choice for Republican politicians. In fact, politicians would do well to study this, and maybe even practice it. As Kevin Costner told Tim Robbins in Bull Durham: “You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends …”

You can watch the video below (the abortion question starts around the eight-minute mark):