Trump’s RNC Takes Platform Committee Behind Closed Doors in Fight Over Abortion Language

FRC Pres. Tony Perkins wants GOP to keep strident anti-abortion platform . (Image from C-SPAN's Washington Journal in August 2020)

The Republican Platform Committee will meet in Milwaukee on Monday and Tuesday; unlike previous platform committee meetings, which were open to the press and broadcast to the public, this year’s deliberations will be behind closed doors.

Anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ religious-right activists had a major hand in writing the most recent GOP platform in  2016, and they are organizing to stop Trump’s team from changing the hardline anti-abortion and anti-marriage equality language to something Trump’s advisors think will be less off-putting to voters.

It’s getting ugly. Politico reported on July 2 that the RNC apparently overrode a vote by South Carolina delegates in order to replace two social conservatives with Trump loyalists. One of the activists reportedly dumped is Chad Connelly, a former head of faith outreach for the RNC who has been actively organizing conservative pastors to mobilize turnout among their congregants.

Connelly’s group, Faith Wins, is among more than two dozen religious-right groups supporting a “Platform Integrity Project” that is urging followers to contact RNC delegates and askig them to sign a request that the platform committee meetings be open. Backers include the Family Research Council, David Barton’s WallBuilders, Intercessors for America, Eagle Forum, the American Principles Project, and the political action arms of the American Family Association and Council for National Policy. FRC’s Perkins, himself a member of the platform committee, wrote to RNC chair Michael Whatley and other party leaders on July 1 to protest what he called “the RNC Gag Rule” and the possibility that the platform would be “watered down to a few pages of meaningless, poll-tested talking points.” FRC has announced that it will be tracking and scoring how delegates vote on the platform.

The Trump campaign’s willingness to play hardball with its closest allies suggests how urgently Trump’s advisers want to make abortion less of a voting issue this fall, given that most Americans oppose abortion bans. The RNC seems to assume that the right-wing evangelical voters who overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2016 and 2020 will not abandon him over platform language given that he gave them a Supreme Court majority that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Organizing intensified in recent days. The group Created Equal, which argues that the law should treat abortion like murder, declared in a Friday email, “We won’t allow the GOP to throw preborn babies under the bus.” It said the group “will fly a giant aerial tow banner of a 15-week aborted baby juxtaposed with the words ‘VOTE ANTI-ABORTION’ over Milwaukee” during the convention. A Saturday morning action alert from FRC asked activists to contact their state’s platform committee delegates to ensure that the platform is not “watered down.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio, still auditioning to be Trump’s V.P. pick, backed Trump’s position that abortion should be a state issue and that a federal ban is not feasible, telling CNN’s Dana Bash that “our platform has to reflect our nominee.” FRC’s Perkins responded Sunday evening saying he was “stunned” by Rubio’s “capitulation to the forces of abortion” and asserting, “I can assure you that if the GOP abandons the unborn in the Party Platform, it will dampen Bible-believing, conservative voter enthusiasm and turnout.”

Public feuding aside, this year’s platform committee is in hardline hands, with Christian nationalist Project 2025 leader Russ Vought and anti-abortion extremist Ed Martin among the committee’s leadership team. GOP activist and Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton is serving again on the committee, and declared recently that his mission is to ensure that the platform aligns with the first twelve chapters of the book of Genesis.

It will be particularly interesting to learn what role Ed Martin plays. Martin, who supports a federal no-exceptions abortion ban, portrays himself as the keeper of the late Eagles Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly’s legacy.  As Right Wing Watch has reported, during the 2016 Republican convention, “Schlafly hosted a ‘Life of the Party’ event celebrating that the GOP has been officially anti-abortion since 1976; she told attendees that she endorsed Trump after he pledged loyalty to a pro-life platform.”

But Martin and other religious-right activists are also MAGA Trump supporters, so they may try to prevent an all-out fight by working out a compromise that tries to make their followers as well as Trump’s political operatives happy. At the 1996 Republican convention in San Diego, Schlafly, Ralph Reed, Bay Buchanan, and Gary Bauer successfully beat back nominee Bob Dole’s effort to soften the platform’s anti-abortion language. At the time, Reed was gleeful about flexing the religious right’s political muscle and demonstrating the movement’s power to humiliate Dole, which could have ultimately contributed to his defeat.

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