The New York Times reports that the "cash-rich group aiding Jeb Bush’s White House run has filmed a provocative video casting his rival Marco Rubio as ultimately unelectable because of his hard-line stand against abortion."
According to Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Michael Barbaro, the man running Bush's Right to Rise super PAC recently showed the video to a focus group of Republicans in New Hampshire. During the first GOP debate, Rubio had this exchange with Megyn Kelly:
KELLY: If you believe that life begins at conception, as you say you do, how do you justify ending a life just because it begins violently, through no fault of the baby?
RUBIO: Well, Megyn, first of all, I’m not sure that that’s a correct assessment of my record. I would go on to add that I believe all–
KELLY: You don’t favor a rape and incest exception?
RUBIO: I have never said that. And I have never advocated that. What I have advocated is that we pass law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection.
Polls show that voters (83% of Americans overall and 76% of Republicans) want abortion to be legal in cases in which the pregnancy is the result of rape. And Hillary Clinton has pounced on Rubio's remarks, likening the Florida senator and other pro-life Republicans to terrorists. So just how badly might Rubio's position hurt him in the general election? That's not entirely clear.
Although Rubio opposes these exceptions in principle, he has made it clear he's willing to accept them in practice. And the only pro-life legislation that has a plausible chance of landing on a President Rubio's desk--popular bills banning taxpayer-funded and late-term abortion--include those exceptions.
Expressing opposition to an exception for abortion in these circumstances has not, by itself, proven to be toxic for many political candidates. Rubio himself won the swing state of Florida while holding this position in 2010. Paul Ryan, who takes the same position as Rubio, won his swing congressional district repeatedly. Scott Walker was hammered explicitly on the issue of abortion exceptions in 2010, 2012, and 2014 and he scored solid victories each time in a Democratic-leaning state.
The only GOP presidential nominee since Roe v. Wade to oppose abortion in the case of rape was Ronald Reagan. "The president and I do favor a human rights amendment. I favor one that would have an exception for incest and rape, and he doesn't," George H.W. Bush said in his October 1984 debate with Geraldine Ferraro. Reagan went on to win 49 states that November.
Of course, Reagan was a popular incumbent who was staring down the Soviets and presiding over a rollicking economic recovery. Walter Mondale, like Jimmy Carter before him, was a weak candidate. And the political parties hadn't sorted out in such a way that encouraged the Democratic party to make any aspect of the abortion debate a huge issue. (In the 1980 and 1984 elections, there were a lot more working-class pro-life Democrats than there are today.)
It's important to remember that in 2016 Democrats are going to accuse the Republican nominee of wanting to ban abortion in the case of rape even if that's not his or her position. That's what Barack Obama's campaign—which devoted 1 in 10 ads to the abortion issue—did to Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney essentially responded with silence, and one can plausibly argue that the failure to punch back is much more dangerous than holding a principled position identical to Ronald Reagan's.
Rubio has so far proven himself to be quite eloquent when discussing the right to life and powerful when hitting back against Democratic extremism. "He gave the best pro-life speech I’ve ever heard at the Susan B. Anthony dinner a few years back," Matt Lewis wrote in the Daily Beast this year.