April 12, 2023 - 1:00pm

Anglosphere countries’ best chance of beating the civilisational autoimmune disease I call cultural socialism, elsewhere known as ‘wokeness’, is a total reform of corrupt institutions. That goal is only within reach in the United States, thanks to an electorate that has woken up to culture war issues and politicians willing to take on the progressive establishment, notably Florida’s Ron DeSantis.

Yet the pro-life movement is now the biggest obstacle to making that happen. How so? Abortion bans are unpopular, with barely a third of Americans saying abortion should be illegal in most cases. Even 40% of Republicans are opposed. In Florida, DeSantis has said he will sign a bill into law that would restrict abortion to within six weeks of pregnancy, effectively outlawing the practice.

Since two in three Florida voters oppose the measure, it represents a big withdrawal from the state governor’s bank of political capital. As the 2022 midterms showed, anti-abortion politics is a major vote loser for the GOP, and current polls rank this as their biggest weak spot. In effect, abortion fundamentalism is likely to damage Republican chances at state and federal levels, perhaps fatally. This makes it considerably less likely that DeSantis will be able to complete his anti-woke legislative agenda.

The anti-abortion cause punches above its weight for the same reason tax cuts do: these are the priorities of the donors and lobbies which make up the Republican establishment. They also resonate with committed party activists, many of whom spring from evangelical parachurch organisations. As evidence: just four red states have outlawed affirmative action while 13 have banned abortion, even though two-thirds of Americans support the former and just a third the latter. 

Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Eric Holcomb of Indiana are two Republican governors who have vetoed bills that would have prevented transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports — despite clear majorities of their states’ voters supporting such bans. Noem wielded her staunch anti-abortion credentials in a bid to deflect criticism. In both cases, the business lobby won out in a way it never would have on issues dear to the pro-life movement.

The question remains as to why conservative parties have been so slow to counter affirmative action, woke schools and colleges, and captured bureaucracies when such policies are extremely popular. The answer is that small and unpopular establishment causes like invading foreign countries, banning abortion or cutting Social Security are better organised and funded. Until culture war and border issues can level that playing field, they will continue to be thrown under the bus by the GOP.

Abortion, like the economy and foreign policy, is also a sandbox that progressive sections of the media will permit conservatives to play in without being accused of racism, sexism or homophobia. Ploughing established furrows is easier than breaking tough new ground.

The Republican establishment says it cares about ending affirmative action, halting critical race and gender theory in schools, and controlling the leaky southern border. In reality, it is willing to sacrifice these populist causes to mollify the unpopular fixations of the party’s donor class.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London, and author of Whiteshift: Immigration, Populism and the Future of White Majorities. He is a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange.