BY CHARLOTTE JAMES
With over a year remaining until Americans head to the polls, the 2024 presidential election has already garnered attention for its speculative nature, catchy soundbites, and a fair share of controversy. Amidst these dynamics, President Biden's potential bid for re-election in April had been uncertain, given the 80-year old’s status as America's oldest president. Furthermore, the launches of the presidential campaigns by Biden's opponents have been marked by turbulence, exemplified by Republican hopeful Ron DeSantis' ill-fated attempt to live-stream his campaign alongside Elon Musk, an event plagued by embarrassing technical difficulties.
However, it is undeniable that the true legacy of the 2024 election will be its status as the first presidential race since the Dobbs case overturned Roe v. Wade last year. The resounding success of the Democrats in the 2022 midterms served as a powerful demonstration of how post-Dobbs electoral politics have become national referendums on the crucial issue of women's reproductive rights. A recent NPR poll from April revealed that an overwhelming 61% of Americans support abortion rights, indicating that 2024 will only further entrench this new paradigm in the minds of voters.
In light of this widespread public support, Democrats have entered the race with renewed vigour. Their messaging regarding the Dobbs decision remains steadfast and unified. Democrats perceive the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a direct assault on women's rights - a regressive step backward driven by the GOP (the Republican Party). This message resonates across the nation, and Democratic candidates at all levels of government are placing abortion rights and accusations of Republican patriarchal extremism at the forefront of their campaigns.
Republicans therefore find themselves in a perilous situation. Their hard-fought goal of restricting abortion rights now risks imploding in their faces. With a third of Republicans supporting access to abortion, they must devise an approach that accommodates both the hard-line pro-lifers and those crucial moderates. Above all else, Republicans need to adopt a clear, unified message on abortion that can rival the Democrat’s decisively pro-choice messaging. So far, such a message has not emerged.
Perhaps the key to the Republicans' strategy lies in the philosophy of former South Carolina governor, Nicki Haley. Despite her personal opposition to abortion, Haley advocates for a moderate approach that emphasizes empathy and compassion, arguing that the issue should be left to individual states. This stance could potentially resonate with the moderate the GOP seeks to retain in 2024. However, Haley currently does not hold a top-runner position, and her moderate approach risks alienating support from key organizations such as the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life. The group's president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, has explicitly warned that they will actively oppose any presidential candidate who does not advocate for a 15-week federal ban.
Meanwhile, the ambiguous messaging from former President Donald Trump on the issue of abortion risks turning away voters. Throughout his political career, Trump has expressed varying views on abortion. Initially an advocate, he adopted a notably right-wing approach during his 2016 campaign, committing his administration to overturning Roe v. Wade but then shifting the responsibility to the states. Ultimately, Trump's lack of principled stance on abortion makes him a risky candidate for those concerned with abortion policy. His tendency to view women's bodily autonomy as mere political leverage plays into the hands of Democrats, highlighting the extent to which he dehumanizes women.
Trump's main rival, controversial Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, may offer a more decisive stance but faces deep unpopularity among moderates due to the extreme nature of his positions. In April, DeSantis triggered backlash by signing a bill in his home state that banned abortions after six weeks and imposed strict limitations on access to abortion in cases of rape or incest. If abortion is to play the central role anticipated, DeSantis appears a weak choice to pit against Democrats, likely securing support primarily from a minority of far-right evangelical Republicans.
The messaging from Republicans may be unclear, but one thing is certain: the GOP has failed to prepare a comprehensive strategy for a post-Roe America. Without a swift resolution, this lack of preparedness could cost them the presidency. Of course, regardless of which candidate emerges victorious from the primaries, it is American women whose lives are at stake. Republicans' willingness to gamble with their reproductive rights renders them the true casualties of this political battle.
Image: The Orbital/ Ted Eytan