This week, the Republican presidential field will considerably expand, with the entry of former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
The candidates will encounter a Republican base that is not satisfied by the fact that access to abortion remains in many parts of the country and is energized by the possibility of a strict nationwide ban.
That could prove an enormous problem in the weeks and months to come. The promises candidates make to evangelical voters in early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina could come back to haunt them in the general election against incumbent President Biden, who has made protecting abortion rights a signature issue.
Republicans will then have to either break their promises to conservatives or keep those promises and maintain a strong stance against abortion, alienating moderates, without whom they cannot win a general election.
How did the Republicans arrive at this challenging crossroads?
Victory brings new problems
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, conservatives achieved a momentous victory they had been aiming toward for decades. Ever since the 1973 ruling legalized abortion nationwide, the religious and political right had worked tirelessly to influence elections and judicial nominations on the issue.
They got their wish with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which returned the power to regulate abortion to individual states.
But that victory always carried with it more than a hint of danger, because the vast majority of Americans support some measure of reproductive freedom.
Read more from Yahoo News: Has the Supreme Court found its limit on abortion?
What the American people say
Most Americans are in favor of keeping abortion legal — with some limitations. That puts them well to the left of conservatives who want to ban the procedure and to the right of progressives who favor minimal restrictions.
After a draft Supreme Court opinion in the Dobbs case was leaked to Politico, polling found that only 30% of Americans supported reversing Roe, and 54% thought abortion should remain legal across the country.
Since then, as Republican governors and conservative judges have moved to restrict abortion access, support for the protection of reproductive rights has only grown. A poll in May found that 58% of Americans wanted Congress to pass a law to protect abortion.
In other words, Republicans now own a position that is not supported by most Americans. After a Democratic candidate won a crucial judicial race in Wisconsin by promising to protect reproductive freedom, Politico dubbed abortion “Republican quicksand.”
Read more from Yahoo News: America's religious leaders sharply divided over abortion, a year after Roe v Wade's reversal, via AP
What the Republican candidates say they’ll do
Republican presidential candidates face something of a political head-scratcher. In the upcoming primary contests, they have to appeal to a GOP base that does support strict abortion restrictions, including a national ban.
Then, whoever emerges from the primary will have to quickly pivot to the general election and persuade moderate voters that they do not need to fear a national ban, or similar anti-abortion measures that are popular only with conservatives.
The candidates’ upcoming struggles are perhaps best represented by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who recently signed a six-week abortion ban at a midnight ceremony that was not publicized. DeSantis touted the new law in Iowa, where evangelical voters could decide next year’s caucus, but avoided the issue altogether in libertarian New Hampshire.
The front runner, Donald Trump, has routinely bragged about appointing the three Supreme Court justices whose presence on the high court helped to secure the reversal of Roe.
“I was able to kill Roe v. Wade,” Trump recently said. At the same time, he has described a six-week ban, like the one passed by his rival DeSantis, as “too harsh.”
If those are seemingly inconsistent views, they are still somehow consistent with Trump’s record of saying whatever suits him at the moment, without regard to any ideological or political commitments.
Candidates now trailing Trump and DeSantis in early polls hope that abortion-themed appeals might propel them to a victory in Iowa next year. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, himself a devout Christian, has said that, as president, he would “sign the most conservative pro-life legislation you can bring to my desk.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence has said that he favors a six-week ban.
At the very least, none of the presidential candidates seems to agree with Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who recently said that her party would “suffer” for its increasingly restrictive stance on abortion.
Read more from Yahoo News: Nancy Mace finds herself on a lonely GOP island, via The Hill
How the Democrats will respond
Democrats agree with Mace and are doing everything they can to make sure that her prediction comes true next year, both in the presidential and congressional races.
Making abortion a centerpiece of their 2022 strategy helped Democrats avoid a much-expected midterm rout by Republicans, and since the stakes will be even higher in 2024, there is every reason to believe that abortion will remain a centerpiece of the Democratic platform.
“Republicans are rushing to establish themselves as the most anti-choice extremists in the MAGA primary,” Ammar Moussa, a Democratic National Committee spokesman, told Yahoo News. “Led by Donald Trump, who’s ‘proud’ of his anti-choice record, MAGA Republicans are poised to again be rejected by the American people who want women to have the freedom to make their own health care decisions."
Read more from Yahoo News: Democrats see abortion as winning issue with 2024 Biden reelection launch, via CBS News