Abortion Takes Center Stage in Ohio GOP Senate Primary as One Candidate Misrepresents Another’s Comments

Main: In this file photograph taken in March 12, 2007, a two-week-old boy eyes his new world. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) Insert (L): Bernie Moreno/YouTube Insert (R): Breitbart News
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images, Insert (L): Bernie Moreno/YouTube, Insert (R): Breitbart News

Abortion politics are taking center stage in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary over the past week as one candidate, businessman Bernie Moreno, misrepresented comments from another, author J.D. Vance, in a vicious political attack.

The dustup comes as the left—fueled by attacks on Republicans from the establishment media—sees the resurgence of abortion as an opportunity to blunt GOP momentum heading into the 2022 midterm elections, especially after in recent weeks Texas adopted a strict new anti-abortion law that the Supreme Court declined to block implementation of while it faces legal challenges.

This incident serves to inform Republicans on their handling of the hot-button issue, and how to message on it, not just in Ohio but in political hotbeds from coast to coast, especially as Democrats and the establishment media try to use it to trip up conservatives. How Republicans handle abortion politics and messaging inside the party could determine a lot about how successful—or not—the left is in using it in upcoming elections.

AUSTIN, TX - MAY 29: Protesters march down Congress Ave at a protest outside the Texas state capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Thousands of protesters came out in response to a new bill outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected signed on Wednesday by Texas Governor Greg Abbot. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

Pro-abortion protesters march outside the Texas state capitol on May 29, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

What happened here, in particular, is that Moreno seized on leftist criticisms of Vance—using the language of the left and establishment media criticisms of Vance—to inaccurately portray Vance’s position to make it appear as though Vance was saying rape is “inconvenient.” But Vance was using the term clearly describing the left’s view of any unborn child who a mother wants to abort—no matter the circumstances of conception or the reason why the mother would seek an abortion.

Perhaps even curiouser is that Moreno literally has—as he confirmed in a follow-up interview with Breitbart News this week—the exact same position as Vance when it comes to abortion. Both believe there should be no exceptions for rape or incest, or anything else, and Moreno’s criticism of Vance is purely stylistic with no policy daylight between the candidates. Moreno even admitted that the leftist local media personality who did the interview with Vance was trying to trip him up, saying “of course” that interviewer was a leftist trying to trap Vance. “Every reporter is a leftist,” Moreno told Breitbart News, adding except about this reporter “not you of course.”

The contentious Vance interview in question that sparked all of this, conducted via podcast with local Ohio media outlet Spectrum News anchor Curtis Jackson, ends with the interviewer summarizing a question to Vance. “I asked Vance if he thinks anti-abortion laws should include exceptions for rape or incest,” Jackson said in the podcast, before playing audio from Vance responding to the question.

JD Vance, the venture capitalist and author of “Hillbilly Elegy”, speaks with supporters following a rally Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Middletown, Ohio, where he announced he is joining the crowded Republican race for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat being left by Rob Portman. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

J.D. Vance signs his book Hillbilly Elegy as he speaks with supporters following a rally, July 1, 2021, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Vance’s reply does not agree with the premise of the question, and Vance never even uses the words rape or incest—he generally argues society should not look at unborn babies, regardless of the circumstances of their conception, as “inconveniences to be discarded.”

“Look, I think two wrongs don’t make a right. At the end of the day, we’re talking about an unborn baby,” Vance said. “What kind of society do we want to have? A society that looks at unborn babies as inconveniences to be discarded?”

In a follow-up question, Jackson asked Vance again even more directly: “Should a woman be forced to carry a child to term after she has been the victim of incest or rape?”

Again, Vance responds by not entertaining the leftist trap and not even using the words rape or incest but delineating the leftist position on any unborn child whose mother seeks an abortion as viewing that child as “inconvenient.”

This picture shows a doctor doing an ultrasound examination during a visit of a pregnant woman to her gynecologist, January 31, 2019. (Jasper Jacobs/AFP/Getty Images)

A doctor performs an ultrasound examination on a pregnant woman, January 31, 2019. (Jasper Jacobs/AFP via Getty Images)

“Look, my view on this has been very clear and I think the question betrays a certain presumption that’s wrong,” Vance said:

It’s not whether a woman should be forced to bring a child to term, it’s whether a child should be allowed to live even though the circumstances of that child’s birth are somehow inconvenient or a problem to the society. The question to me really is about the baby. We want women to have opportunities. We want women to have choices. But above all we want women and young boys in the womb to have the right to life. Right now our society doesn’t afford that and I think that’s a tragedy and I think we can do better.

It is unsurprising to see the barrage of articles and attacks from establishment media outlets—principally among them the Daily Beast—mischaracterizing Vance’s comments as somehow meaning he was saying rape or the product of rape was “inconvenient” even though Vance never used the word rape.

“Nowhere in the interview cited does JD actually say what the Daily Beast is dishonestly claiming he said. The transcript of the interview bears this out as that phrase is never uttered and JD even rejects the entire premise of the question he was asked by the interviewer,” a Vance spokesman told the Daily Beast for its article. “The Daily Beast’s pathetic attempt to put words in his mouth show that they’ve traded in any semblance of journalistic integrity to be full on leftwing political activists.”

It’s worth noting too that those questions Vance dismissed during that Spectrum interview came after a much broader discussion during the interview about the issue of abortion and the Texas law. That broader context even further demonstrates that those on the left claiming Vance was referring to rape as inconvenient are incorrect, and that Vance was clearly describing the broader view from the left of all unwanted unborn children.

“Well I think in Texas they’re trying to make it easier for unborn babies to be born,” Vance said when asked about the Texas law. “There is a view, common among leaders of the Democratic Party, that babies deserve no legal protections in the womb. That is a common view in the Democratic Party. All I’m saying is that view is wrong. It is.”

So the whole saga would have mostly ended there with the Daily Beast’s hit piece—and save maybe a handful of other leftwing outlets aggregating it, it would have been over—if not for Moreno, one of Vance’s primary opponents, recording a video with his wife agreeing with the left’s misinterpretation of Vance’s comments.

“Hi, I’m Bernie Moreno—dad, husband, father, and on the day I announced my Senate campaign, grandfather to a beautiful little granddaughter,” Moreno said in the video:

What I want to talk about today is not politics. What I want to talk about today is that one of my primary opponents talked about rape as something that’s inconvenient. There’s nothing inconvenient about rape. Using that kind of rhetoric has no place in this race.

Moreno’s wife Bridget, who has worked at a rape crisis center for years, said this in the video: “I volunteered for years at a local rape crisis center, and never once did I hear a survivor say the word ‘inconvenient.’ Rape is a life-altering experience. A long line at a grocery store is an inconvenience.”

“As Republican candidates for a very high office in this land, let’s do better,” Moreno himself concluded in it. “Let’s focus on that. And never, ever use that kind of rhetoric to discuss those types of issues. Thank you and let’s have an amazing weekend.”

Then, this week, Moreno added more criticisms claiming Vance’s comments were like Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock—the two failed Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana in 2012 whose actual mishandling of the issue cost them their Senate campaigns.

What’s perhaps infuriating to conservatives about this whole incident is that Moreno has been an otherwise fantastic candidate for the right on everything from the issue of life—this issue—to immigration to fighting public health officials using the coronavirus pandemic to engage in authoritarian control. So this criticism from him felt out of place to many on the right, who ripped him for distorting Vance’s comments:

Moreno, in an interview this week mostly focused on his recent trip to the U.S. border with Mexico—more on that is forthcoming—defended his attack on Vance.

“We know that when we talk about life and the fight for life that the left always—always—takes out the one weapon they have: How about rape? They always do that even though it’s less than three percent of abortions maybe even less than that. We know that. Right? We know that’s the fight and it becomes a conversation of rape versus abortion and that’s hard—that’s a difficult, difficult conversation to have,” Moreno said. “My issue with J.D. isn’t that he was 100 percent pro-life. I’m 100 percent pro-life with no exceptions. The issue is he was a guy who his entire life has been a writer. He knows words. He knows how to talk about things. He doesn’t have a track record of accomplishing things in business, right? He’s a guy who’s an author—so he should know better.”

Moreno also insists he does not regularly criticize his fellow Republicans in the race. “I don’t attack Republicans. Look at my Twitter feed. I’m not Josh Mandel—I’m not out there shitting on Mike DeWine or J.D. Vance or Jane Timken every day. I just don’t do that. I don’t want people to vote for me because they suck—I want people to vote for me because they think I’m the right person,” he said.

Interestingly, Moreno’s criticisms of Vance also seemed to shift in this interview away from him alleging straight up that Vance called rape “inconvenient”—Vance did not, as explained above—to criticisms of Vance not saying anything about rape, and claiming that Vance was “sloppy.”

 

A pro-life activist holds a model fetus during a demonstration in front of the U.S. Supreme Court June 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court has ruled today, in a 5-4 decision, a Louisiana law that required abortion doctors need admitting privileges to nearby hospitals unconstitutional. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A pro-life activist holds a model fetus during a demonstration in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 29, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Moreno said that Vance should have told the reporter that “rape is vile.”

“It’s heinous,” Moreno said. “It’s the most dehumanizing crime anybody can commit and it’s a life sentence for those involved. Abortion is murder. Every life is precious. And no one should decide who lives and who dies except for God. Both of those things are true at the same time. By being sloppy and using a word the left would seize on—by the way I made that comment to him and my wife and I made that video for reasons that are deeply personal to me, rape is something that I have had unfortunately come upon my family, so I did that before any of the left media but I predicted it which is you gave them the opening they wanted by saying the circumstances of the birth are inconvenient to society. I know what he said I listened to the tape 15 times.”

Technically, Moreno’s claim that his video came out before the leftist establishment media attacks is blatantly false. The Daily Beast and the Washington Post had both published feature-length articles falsely attacking Vance before Moreno released his Twitter video.

At another point, Moreno said that Vance has “never clarified his comments,” again seemingly backing off this original claim he made that Vance called rape “inconvenient” and now saying that the whole thing is murky. “That’s the other part that is extraordinarily disappointing for me is he could have come out and said of course rape is vile and horrible and heinous and hideous,” Moreno said. “Again, he knows the word vile he’s used it all the time. He could have said that—and then talked about the sentient rights of the unborn. He never to this day said that. That’s on him, that’s not on me. If he’s the nominee, and I’m going to work my ass off to make sure he’s not—I’m going to win—that will be used as a battering ram against him. That’s how we lose elections.”

However, if Vance does win the nomination—or any other Republican than him—Moreno did confirm that “of course” he will support the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Ohio.

“I was a big supporter of Mitt Romney. I was a big supporter of Paul Ryan. I was a big supporter of Kasich. I was a big supporter of DeWine—all when they were against Democrats. Do I think they were my hero Republicans? Of course not,” Moreno said. “But they were better than the alternative. Some people go ‘oh no I can’t believe you supported Kasich.’ I go, ‘what you wanted the Democrat to win?’ They can’t believe I supported DeWine and I go ‘what you wanted Cordray to be governor?’ Of course, I will support the Republican nominee but I am also going to tell you I am going to work my ass off to make sure that that’s me because I think that I’m the one that can win the general election in a substantive and large way because I’m not going to make dumb mistakes like that.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) asks questions during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 30, 2021. (Greg Nash/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) asks questions during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 30, 2021. (Greg Nash/AFP via Getty Images)

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