Whatever the outcome of this campaign season, we are indebted to Marco Rubio for making it clear where the battle lines for the Republican Party’s soul have been drawn on the issue of abortion.
By some standards, Marco Rubio had a bad night in the New Hampshire Republican primary debate on Saturday. He was blind-sided by older establishment candidates, particularly a dangerously desperate Chris Christie. In a dog-eat-dog primary where Rubio’s star appears to be rising and theirs fading, they have one simple goal: Bring him crashing down before he is out of range. Never mind that American voters are plainly no longer interested in what Bush, Christie and their ilk are peddling. Never mind that what gets applause in New Hampshire is not likely to go over well outside their handkerchief-sized stomping ground. All that matters is that Rubio has committed the unpardonable sins of a) not waiting his turn, and b) stealing their votes after not waiting his turn. For that, the establishment is determined to make him pay, out of sheer jealous spite.
To be clear, I am personally not convinced that Rubio is the absolute best choice for the Republican nomination. And yes, on pure rhetoric, he stumbled badly under Christie’s frontal assault. (His main gaffe was continuing to repeat an anti-Obama talking point word-for-word, even while Christie was mocking him for it.)
But something else happened on Saturday night, something that far outweighs this misstep for me. There was one issue on which Rubio rose head and shoulders above the candidates who were trying to take him down. I’m talking about the issue of life. As I watched Bush and Christie attack Rubio for being “too pro-life” on the New Hampshire stage (and draw applause for it), it became clear that I was witnessing a pivotal turning-point in American politics. I was witnessing nothing less than a battle for the soul of the Republican party.
What do Bush and Christie mean by “too pro-life?” Too pro-life, by their standards, means being opposed to abortion under the traditional “exception cases” (rape and incest). This is setting aside cases where the life of the mother is at risk. (I do not concede this exception either, although Rubio does.) On the rape and incest “exceptions,” Rubio has been doing something that, to my knowledge, is unprecedented among Republican candidates. He has been explicitly bringing out the distinction between voting for a bill that includes exceptions and insisting such exceptions be included. While he has done the former with a clear conscience, knowing lives will still be saved, Marco has made it clear under questioning that this does not make him “pro-exceptions” in principle. This distinction has gone unclarified for too long, and it’s high time a pro-life politician put it into plain terms for the American people.
Oh no, Mr. Bush, I don’t think you quite understand. It is you who will have to “explain” your position, you and Governor Christie both. Perhaps you believe you are courting my generation’s vote by your cowardice. You are sadly mistaken. You must answer to us. You must answer to the pro-life generation.
You see, we think Rubio got it right when he answered you that he would rather lose an election than be wrong on the issue of life. We happen to think the measure of a man is the stand he takes when he stands alone, or seems to stand alone. But we are also here to tell you that Marco Rubio does not stand alone. And if it’s a choice between a smooth operator like you and a man who sometimes sweats in the spotlight but is unwilling to betray his conscience, guess who we prefer?
Maybe this man has not yet reached the peak of his powers. Maybe he has a little more growth to do before he is fully prepared to take the reins of the highest office in the land. Maybe there are other policy positions on which some of us, myself included, would disagree with him. But whatever the outcome of this campaign season, we are indebted to Marco Rubio for making it clear where the battle lines for the Republican Party’s soul have been drawn on the issue of abortion. The establishment fears him, because they know in their hearts that they cannot prevail. The future of the pro-life movement is here, and it will not be silenced.
I am the pro-life generation, and I stand with Marco Rubio.