Republicans are Terrible at Politics, and the Gosnell Story Proves It

Nathan L. Gonzales April 15, 2013 · 12:28 PM EDT

The gruesome tale of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is a good example of why Republicans are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of American voters.

Gosnell is on trial for the alleged murder of a woman and seven babies in a clinic in which sanitary standards were apparently an afterthought. It is the perfect story that crystallizes one of the Republican Party’s core values. Yet, until now, most Republicans and conservatives have been surprisingly silent on the story.

Regardless of whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, Republicans appear to be missing (or may have missed) an opportunity to influence public opinion on a polarizing issue.

Were Democrats in the same position, they would already have a piece of legislation drafted with the name of a victim on it, and they would be in the middle of a relentless public campaign for its passage. It’s what Democrats do best -- putting a face and a story together to promote a policy position: the families of Newtown and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords for gun control, and Lilly Ledbetter for equal pay are two recent examples.

Like the infamous shootings, the story of Gosnell’s abortion clinic is so terrible that, to the average person, there really is no controversy about the alleged misconduct or the need to prevent incidents. But even though the details started to become public over two years ago, most people on the Right chose to ignore the story, just like most of the media and those on the Left, until the last week or so.

Not only have Republicans missed an opportunity to go on offense in advancing a polarizing policy position, but they continue to play defense. In Virginia, Democrats are attacking state Attorney General/likely GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli for pushing for stricter health regulations on abortion clinics. It seems like a natural connection for Cuccinelli to point to Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic, just two and half hours up the road, as a solid reason why those regulations need to be in place.

It doesn’t even really matter whether the Virginia regulations would indeed make the clinics safer, a position challenged by the pro-choice community, Republicans would have a vivid and specific example that would sound like “common sense” to many people who won’t most likely get into the weeds of the issue. It would be an opportunity for Republicans to try and frame the debate in their favor for once.

But even if Republicans were to try and use the story to sway public opinion, they would likely fumble away the chance by going back to the familiar politics of abortion. But the Gosnell case is not just about abortion, but about women’s health. Women were abused, mistreated, and allegedly killed at his clinic.

Democrats attacked Republicans during the entirety of the 2012 campaign for the GOP’s so-called “War on Women.” The whole time, Republicans could have used the Gosnell case as an opportunity to show at least one example of how the party cares about women’s health.

But even though conservatives are excited that the Gosnell story is finally creeping further into the public conversation, there may not be good news on the horizon for Republicans here either.

Based on the GOP’s inability to communicate a coherent message and pro-choice advocates’ push to blame pro-life positions for the Gosnell situation, Republicans could get blamed for this too.