The Defense Of Life Has Proven To Be A Political Winner

Conservatives need to be smart, but we need to stay salty. We need to win, and no one ever wins through surrender.

Woodman. DailyWire+. Michael Knowles.
Woodman. DailyWire+.

This is the second part of a speech delivered by Michael Knowles at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Conservative candidates for federal office across the nation should say that they support life, they support babies and mothers, and they respect the Supreme Court precedent established in Dobbs that abortion is a matter for the states rather than the federal government. Such a stance allows candidates to sidestep a thorny issue in a tough election year without sacrificing their principles.

It does not delve into what ought to be done at the state level, nor should it, since the candidates are running for federal office. It allows candidates to be wise as serpents, which we have to be if we want to get anything done in politics, but also innocent as doves, which we have to be if we want to do anything that is actually worth doing in politics.

Mouthing off and losing elections does not advance the pro-life cause; likewise, abandoning our principles to win elections also does not advance the pro-life cause. Pro-life losers do no more to protect innocent life than pro-abortion candidates do. We have to win. And likewise, conservatives who win by caving on fundamental principles are no better than liberals. “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

To win by caving on the fundamental right — the right to life — would constitute a deal with the Devil. And ironically, like all deals with the Devil, the dealmakers ultimately won’t even get what they bargained for. Because such a deal most likely won’t even help conservative candidates win.

How many pro-abortion conservatives have gotten elected in recent years? Susan Collins? There are some, but not many. New York Magazine ran a piece a couple of years ago on “the near extinction of pro-choice Republicans.” They’re a dying breed — and for good reason. When Republicans squish on so fundamental an issue, they lose more support than they gain. When faced with the choice between an incoherent Republican and a coherent Democrat, voters often choose the latter. There’s no substitute for the real thing.

I understand the fear among pro-life candidates. Since the Dobbs decision, pro-lifers have suffered some political losses. Voters in Kansas and Kentucky rejected proposed constitutional amendments protecting life. Voters in California, Michigan, Vermont, and Ohio ratified a new license to abortion in their state constitutions. Legislators in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Vermont voted to expand access to poisonous abortion pills. Legislators in Minnesota and New Jersey expanded the license to abortion to include all nine months of pregnancy. It isn’t cowardice for political candidates to take those facts into consideration when crafting their campaign messages.

WATCH: The Michael Knowles Show

The pro-abortion side has made much of these political victories to encourage their own politicians and to intimidate conservatives from taking too strong a stance in defense of life. But those pro-abortion wins only tell half the story. Less than one year after Dobbs, a study revealed that 30,000 babies had already been saved from abortion. Each of those lives is of incalculable value in itself. But that number in the aggregate also represents the durability of state laws against abortion. Half of U.S. states now significantly restrict abortion. Fourteen states ban abortion across all nine months, and more states than that ban abortion after a baby’s heartbeat can be detected around six weeks or at least after the first trimester.

Not only are those laws durable; they’re also popular, as Governor Scott Walker — the leader of Young America’s Foundation — pointed out early last year. Governor DeWine in Ohio signed a born-alive bill that threatened two abortion clinics; he won reelection by a huge margin — more than a million votes. Governor Noem signed a pro-life bill in South Dakota; she beat her liberal opponent by almost 30 points. Governor DeSantis in Florida signed a six-week abortion ban; he wrecked his opponent by a million-and-a-half votes. In all those states, the defense of life has proven at some point recently to be a political winner. Every pro-life governor won — and most of them won big — in their midterm elections.

Prudence is not opposed to principles. Quite the opposite. If you want proof, look no further than the Left. Does the Left ever squish on its principles? Even when its principles are insane and unpopular? No. The vast majority of Americans oppose trans-ing kids — 68%, to be exact, according to a recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Does that fact cause liberals to back away from their positions on the issue? Certainly not. It causes them to double down — in the schools, in the libraries, in public policy all the way up to the President of the United States, who recently signed an executive order enshrining the sexual mutilation of children into national policy. If that weren’t creepy enough, he signed the bill flanked by sexually confused teenagers. And this sort of thing is nothing new.

Even before we became degraded to the point that we had to debate whether or not boys can become girls, the liberals demonstrated the power of holding firm to their principles in the face of stark opposition. We saw this clearly in the so-called “gay marriage debate.” It’s easy to forget now, but the notion of “gay marriage” was extremely unpopular among both Democrats and Republicans.

When “gay marriage” came up for popular vote in liberal California of all places, it failed. Even in liberal California, most people did not think it advisable or even possible to redefine the bedrock political institution, which has meant the same thing pretty much everywhere for all of human history. Even so, liberals just kept pushing and pushing. In the legislatures, through the executive branch, and ultimately through the judiciary, which succeeded at redefining marriage in our law through the bizarre romantic poetry of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The liberals never cave on their principles. They only double down. First, they wanted abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. Then, they dropped the “rare.” Now, through their embrace of poison pills and dodgy clinics, they’ve even dropped the “safe” part. They just want more abortion.

Liberals double down on policies such as abortion-on-demand and transgenderism, even when they’re politically unpopular, because they are expressions of the ultimate liberal principle — the raison d’etre of the political Left — which is total liberation: from tradition, from morality, from family, even (in the case of transgenderism) from ourselves and our own bodies. These types of policies are what the Left’s all about. Without constantly pushing the boundary of liberation, the liberals have no reason to exist in politics, and voters have no reason to elect them.

The same principle holds true for conservatives. In a way, we have a major political advantage over the liberals — because our views on these questions are so much more reasonable. We hold that boys and girls are different. We believe that murder is wrong. We believe what most people have always believed just about everywhere. And we continue to cling to the particular facts and customs that have allowed our civilization to flourish. That’s what we’re about. That’s our reason for being in politics. We’re conservative. We don’t want to liberate ourselves from everything. We want to conserve things: most tangibly, the traditions and institutions that constitute our way of life; more abstractly, our rights and the natural law from which we deduce those rights; and ultimately, our proper place in the world — our relationship with our fellow creatures as well as with our Creator, who we hold to have endowed us with certain rights.

If we cease to stand for those things, not only will we not improve our chances of winning; we will guarantee that we never win again. Salt that loses its savor cannot be salted and is good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden on by men (Matthew 5:13-14). Conservatives need to be smart, but we need to stay salty. We need to win, and no one ever wins through surrender.

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