Opinion

Why a pro-life third party would utterly transform American politics

A Republican Party helmed by Donald Trump isn't pro-life. Time for the pro-life movement to disembark?

What political position is supported by a relative majority of Americans and is not supported by the presidential candidate of any party — not the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party, not the Libertarian Party, and not the Green Party?

If you guessed pro-life, you win a cookie!

I know what you're thinking: But Donald Trump is pro-life! He's not — in any way, shape, or form. The guy pretends to be pro-life, but with no credibility whatsoever. The few positions he has staked out on the issue are to support Planned Parenthood and weakening the Republican Party's platform on abortion.

This election is, in a way, a fitting epitaph for a movement that has spent too much time cozying up to the GOP without much of anything to show for it.

Keep in mind that the pro-life movement's big medium-term goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade. As its means of attaining that goal, it tries to get Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court. But when Antonin Scalia was alive, there were five Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court and Roe was still the law of the land.

Even in the wake of the Planned Parenthood fetal tissue scandal, pro-lifers couldn't get the Republican House to pass a bill defunding Planned Parenthood, even though that was a political winner. The stunning thing is how often the GOP has given pro-lifers the brush-off, even when it was against their political interest to do so.

It's probably those concerns that have driven The Federalist publisher Ben Domenech to write a column calling for a pro-life third party. He notes that historically in American politics, the successful third parties haven't been the ones pushing for coherent fringe ideologies, but those focusing on a single issue, like the abolitionists that preceded the GOP or the Prohibition Party.

In his vision, the Party of Life would just push its one issue:

A Party of Life would function in much the same way as the Conservative Party in New York state. In states where Republicans or Democrats nominated a reliably pro-life candidate, the Party of Life would decide whether to formally endorse the candidate, and in the eight states where multiple party designations are allowed on the ballot, could be listed as such. In cases where no pro-life candidate was nominated by either party, the Party of Life could run a third party candidate to force the issue into the conversation. These candidates may have views on fiscal, domestic, and foreign policy that may be widely different — the Party of Life could endorse a candidate with the views of Ron Paul and a candidate with the views of Pope Francis — but they would be unified in an opposition to abortion on demand. [The Federalist]

This is a very clever strategy for getting the pro-life issue into the conversation, and it would allow pro-lifers to regain some of the dignity they lost by their long association with the GOP.

But there's a point that Domenech overlooks, one which might make the Party of Life a bit more resourceful — and a bit more coherent. Do you know of a group that is a lot more pro-life than the mainstream and doesn't vote with the officially pro-life party? That's right: African-Americans.

Uniting white pro-lifers and black pro-lifers (and Latino pro-lifers as well) would profoundly reshuffle American politics in ways that frankly cannot be anticipated, since it would rob both major parties of their most faithful (and most neglected) constituencies.

But for that to happen, the Party of Life can't just be the Republican Party Lite. And in particular, it can't be an anti-government party. One reason why African-Americans have refused to associate with the GOP is because of the Southern strategy and the GOP's legacy of bad race-talk, but also because of policy issues: Because African-Americans are more likely to have someone in their family or close environment who has had to use welfare to bounce back, unlike better-off GOP voters, they have a different view of government.

And let's face it: On the merits, a consistent pro-life ethic would involve a profound reshaping of the welfare state to support mothers and families, with specific subsidies to enhance and protect human life. Think of everything from a massive child tax credit and child savings accounts to tax credits for companies that implement pro-family policies.

Of course, this is the reshaping that has been awaiting American life for awhile and that, paradoxically, Trump points to. While big-city elites have been pining for a "fiscally conservative, socially liberal" center, the actually existing center is fiscally liberal and socially conservative (at least on abortion).

Those policies would be smart politically, but they would happen to be correct on the merits. The welfare state as we know it is based on a 19th-century notion of work and built for a 19th-century society where marriage was robust. In the 21st century, we need to rethink the welfare state to support families that are buffeted by the atomizing forces of globalization, capitalism, and social libertinism. As the Catholic Church has always emphasized, a truly "pro-life" society and culture would be different from our own in many more ways than simply having laws against abortion.

In the meantime, I'll still take the protest-vote Party of Life. Time to stick it in the eye of the GOP.

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