Opinion

A call for careful scrutiny in vetting 2016’s pro-life candidates

Walker Saves BabiesOn Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made his bid for the Republican presidential nomination official. His rousing announcement speech on the need for a candidate who will “fight and win for America” illustrates the core message he wants to drive home: if you want an aggressive, uncompromising champion for values such as the right to life, you’ve come to the right place.

So, in a rare display of political competence, that’s the wedge NARAL is seizing upon in response:

In primaries, Walker touts anti-choice policies to win support from the extreme minority, but in a general election, he shamelessly lies to cover up his record on abortion rights. He lied to get reelected governor last year and he will lie to the nation if he makes it another year in the presidential contest. We’re going to work every day between now and election day to make sure he owns his record and is held accountable.

The “lie” they’re referring to is a gubernatorial ad I wrote about last fall, in which Walker stressed that despite being pro-life, he understands “the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy is an agonizing one” and emphasized that the ultrasound law he signed “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” Left-wing Wisconsin paper The Cap Times also wrote about the ad this week, including the explanation of it Walker gave to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday:

WALKER: You had the pro-abortion, the NARAL, and Emily’s List, and Planned Parenthood and others out there tying to twist our ultrasound language into something that it wasn’t. We wanted to make the case, this is all it does, it doesn’t do anything else for all them complaining about this, it doesn’t change that decision […] it made it able to wipe that issue right off the table because we pushed back and said, what we were proposing was a positive, strong common sense thing to do to get people information.

INGRAHAM: But you don’t believe — I just want to clarify this, governor … you don’t believe the final decision should be between a woman and her doctor—

WALKER: No. I believe it’s an unborn child. My point was, in pointing that out, is the bill, all it does, is require an ultrasound. It didn’t change what the law is.

That’s true and valid, as far as it goes. It is absolutely valid to highlight the dishonesty of pro-abortion hysterics—how, as a matter of fact, they expose themselves as hypocrites who don’t sincerely want women to be fully informed before deciding after all.

It’s also certainly true that Walker has a long pro-life record, so despite strategic objections I and other pro-lifers had to the ad, it didn’t mean he wasn’t sincere.

For NARAL to call it a “lie” is absurd.

Governor Scott Walker

Governor Scott Walker

However, this is where the ad’s strategic foolishness is coming back to haunt him. While Walker has never attempted to hide his position and it would only take a minute with Google for any confused inquirer to confirm he’s pro-life, it’s undeniable that the various rhetorical concessions he makes in it – “end a pregnancy,” “leaves the final decision,” “woman and her doctor,” “reasonable people can disagree” – contradict bold talk of fighting to protect life.

Especially with the sound bytes on video, in his own voice, coming from his mouth, it’s more than enough fodder for attack ads that may confuse low-information voters.

So while Walker’s pro-life sincerity is not in question, his effectiveness in championing the issue still is. To be clear, Walker has been improving – his reaction to this week’s fetal parts scandal was pitch-perfect, and according to at least one state lawmaker, he expressly asked for the assembly to send him the strongest possible version of the state’s 20-week abortion ban.

But other statements from Team Walker this week suggest that we might not be rid of the specter of his past decisions to hire pro-abortion communications personnel like Alleigh Marre and Liz Mair, or of his disinterest in saving two pieces of pro-life legislation from Senate apathy—a longtime Walker adviser suggested that “capturing the conservative wing” was a prelude to “mov[ing] from being a conservative to being a middle-of-the-road moderate later on.”

There are a lot of candidates competing for pro-lifers’ trust and support. Most of them have said or done good things for the cause, but none of them are perfect. I’m not here to tell you which candidate is the pro-life gold standard (if any), or what you should think of their positions on the dozens of other challenges facing our country.

But in exploring both the pros and cons of men like Scott Walker, I am asking you to vet everyone asking for your vote with patience, objectivity, and skepticism. This is one of the hardest, most important jobs in the world, so of course the people vying for it should be subjected to the most rigorous of tests.

Check presidential candidates' pro-life credentials for yourself. Click to Tweet

Do not assume inspiring rhetoric and apparent good intentions are sufficient, or that a good voting record is the only marker of effectiveness. At the same time, do not assume that every tactical misstep or error in judgment makes someone a hopeless traitor, or hold out hope for the mythical perfect leader.

All of this may sound obvious, but it’s necessary to reiterate. Having endured two presidential primary seasons before this one, I have marveled at seeing both good statesmen be demonized and dismissed, and utter mediocrities hailed as gods. I have seen groupthink and hero worship cloud the judgment of normally sensible people into delusions both for and against candidates I’ve liked, disliked, and been indifferent to.

Resist popular impression. Ask every question. Assume nothing. Think for yourself. If we all commit to doing that, we will be far better prepared to advocate for life in this, and in every election, to come.

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