I like former Texas Governor Rick Perry. In fact, I would have voted for him in the Ohio primary last time around had he not dropped out of the race before Super Tuesday. I thought he had a stellar campaign launch last week and it seems like he’s done a lot of hard work to prepare for a second presidential run.
But his appearance on Wednesday night’s The Kelly File was Exhibit A for “How Republicans Fail When Talking About Abortion.” Perry didn’t say anything wrong. In fact, if anything, he was too careful — too scripted — when he defended the Texas law designed to protect women from filthy, unregulated abortion clinics.
See what I did there? I led with an emotional appeal that brings to mind the image of unsanitary surgical equipment and a vulnerable young woman lying on a blood-stained exam table with germ-encrusted stirrups. Oops! I just did it again. You’re picturing that frightened teenager in your mind right now, aren’t you?
Unfortunately, that’s not what Perry did. When Megyn Kelly led the story by describing “a tough new Texas law that may close all but seven abortion clinics in the nation’s second most populous state” and then quoted critics who claim it threatens a woman’s right to have an abortion, Perry recited dry talking points about the bill raising “ambulatory surgical center care standards” and noted that the law requires physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital.
It was a huge missed opportunity and one that Republicans — terrified they’ll accidentally bump into the War on Women and get Todd Akin-ed — seem to miss at every opportunity.
NEWSFLASH: This ain’t rocket science.
All Rick Perry had to do — all any Republican has to do — is tell the true stories of real women who have been injured or have died as a result of substandard care in poorly regulated abortion clinics. Every Republican candidate should have one or two — or ten — stories at the ready when they’re asked why they want to close abortion clinics. They should be able to describe — in every horrific detail — just what goes on behind the closed doors of those dirty clinics, where women are anaesthetized and vulnerable, often at the lowest point in their lives.
Instead, Perry droned on with the risk-averse-consultant-approved talking points. “The people of Texas — we discussed this at length after a lengthy debate and this is really getting down to about women’s health. The idea that you don’t want a a facility to have the same standards that the ambulatory surgical center, I think really goes counter to women’s health,” Perry said.
Nothing wrong with what he said, but it’s safe. It’s what you say when you don’t want to screw up. It’s not what you say when you want to win the argument or convince people that you did the right thing when you signed a controversial piece of legislation that the left will try to use to bludgeon you into a bloody pulp during the course of a presidential campaign.
When Kelly asked Perry about abortion in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother, Perry responded, “I’m pro-life on all of those. But the real issue for me is this has been settled in the Texas legislature and people may not agree across the board — obviously they don’t — but I think from my perspective we need to be finding things that we can work together on bring this country together…” Blah, blah…something, something…
Again, a missed opportunity. At that point Perry should have pulled out a 3-D ultrasound picture of a tiny unborn child sucking his thumb contentedly in his mother’s womb. He should have pointed out the little fingers and toes and talked about the heartbeat and the fingernails and he should have asked Megyn Kelly why we’re spending all this time talking about a handful of rare exceptions when we’re killing a million innocent babies a year in this country.
Tell stories. Weave compelling narratives. Talk about real people, real lives, the real harm that results from Democratic policies. Our side is never going to change hearts and minds if we continue to return to the same strategies, election cycle after election cycle. Reciting statistics and talking points that are devoid of emotion and have been scrubbed of all traces of humanity by teams of consultants doesn’t win us more territory in the battle of ideas. And it certainly won’t end the culture wars. At best, the safe messaging strategy gives a short reprieve, as the other side regroups and invents new ways to attack.
Have we learned nothing from the way the left has engaged in rhetorical warfare over the last twenty years? Go big or go home. Because the troops on the left — including their surrogates in the media — are not about to let our candidates be Switzerland in the War on Women or any other skirmish in the culture wars.