The GOP’s Panic To ‘Protect IVF’ Plays Right Into Democrats’ Hands

Published May 28, 2024

The Federalist

Ted Cruz and Katie Britt have dug a trap for their fellow Republicans and are urging their colleagues to jump on in. The two senators (Cruz from Texas and Britt from Alabama) have introduced the “IVF Protection Act,” which would punish any state that tries to ban, or perhaps even regulate, IVF. This rightly earned immediate pushback from conservatives pointing out that it is a terrible policy idea. 

It is also political folly. Every minute Republican leaders spend talking about IVF is a minute they are not talking about inflation, immigration, and other issues voters actually care about. But instead of addressing voters’ top concerns, Cruz and Britt have taken the bait set by Democrats and the media and have shifted the focus back toward IVF. Democrats must be thrilled. After all, there is no chance of any state banning IVF. 

Yet Republicans such as Cruz and Britt have needlessly allowed the media to stampede them into a panic. They seem convinced they will lose moderate suburban women if they don’t go all-in for IVF, and so this bill is a transparently political attempt to disarm Democrat lines of attack. This might be the dumbest political strategy since Hillary Clinton decided to ignore Wisconsin. 

Democrats’ desire to campaign on IVF should be seen as a sign of desperation, just like their attacks on Justice Alito for flying the “Appeal to Heaven” flag — which dates back to the American War for Independence — at his beach house. These are chaff meant to divert attention away from Biden making Americans poorer and less safe. And some Republicans are falling for it.

Instead, the GOP should welcome Democrats spending time and resources focusing on IVF. All Republican candidates need to do in response if they are badgered about IVF is to keep a cool head and say something like: “There is not a single state that is trying to ban IVF. Democrats are just trying to gin up a phony culture fight because they can’t defend Joe Biden’s disastrous presidency.” And then they should list all the things voters rightly loathe about Biden’s presidency. It’s that simple.

After all, campaigns aren’t won by getting a majority of voters to believe they agree with you on every issue, but by getting a majority of voters to prefer you to the other guy for whatever reason. Getting dragged into a fight on an issue that most voters don’t care about is political malpractice — especially if it is an issue on which the voters will probably trust the other guy more if they do stop to think about it. And no matter how they try, Republicans will never be able to be more pro-IVF than Democrats.

Cruz and Britt might think their bill is clever triangulation. It is not. Triangulation is difficult to pull off and works best if it neutralizes a weakness quickly, allowing for a prompt pivot back toward one’s strengths. The Cruz-Britt bill does not do this. 

Rather, it ensures that Republican internal wrangling and disputes over IVF will fester until the bill is passed or dead. And though opposition to IVF is a minority position, even in the GOP, there are still enough principled pro-life opponents of IVF to matter. Furthermore, this bill is objectionable to other GOP factions, such as legal conservatives and small-government advocates who tend to dislike sweeping federal mandates.

Triangulation tries to win the center by distancing a candidate from the fringe of his own party. This works best when it is about issues the center really cares about. IVF, again, is not one of those issues, especially in a time of rising inflation, uncontrolled immigration, war in Europe and the Middle East, campus radicalism, and more. 

Running against Joe Biden’s record as president is the easiest campaign platform ever, even with the baggage that having Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket brings. That Cruz, Britt, and others are instead trying to run on IVF illustrates the extent to which they are overawed by the liberal bubble they live in — physically, culturally, and politically. 

It also demonstrates a lazy lack of commitment to conservatism. Deftly deflecting and disengaging from dishonest Democrat and media attacks, and then pivoting and counterattacking their weaknesses, requires understanding the issues. For instance, with regard to IVF, it might require knowing that the Alabama court case that kicked off this kerfuffle did not ban IVF; it just ruled that parents could legally hold a facility accountable for negligently allowing their embryonic children to be destroyed. 

That is not a difficult position to defend, but it requires politicians who are principled and diligent enough to know what actually happened and to explain it clearly and succinctly. Instead, a lot of Republicans freaked out as soon as Democrats and their corporate media allies raised a ruckus, and as Cruz and Britt show, they haven’t stopped panicking since. But panic is a lousy way to run a campaign, or to serve as a senator. 

Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.

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