The XX Factor

Rubio’s Success in Tuesday Night’s Debate Should Terrify Women

Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during the fourth Republican presidential debate on Nov. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

After Tuesday night’s debate, it seems increasingly likely that the contest for the Republican nomination is going to come down to Marco Rubio versus Ted Cruz; Marco Rubio versus Donald Trump; or, less likely, Marco Rubio versus Ben Carson. Jeb Bush once again failed to register; Rand Paul’s refreshingly rational views on foreign policy are out of step with those of his hawkish party; John Kasich is running for the nomination of a Republican Party that no longer exists; and failed CEO Carly Fiorina is a joke, despite her humorless blue steel intensity.

Widely declared the debate’s victor, Rubio is moving into the position that Mitt Romney held four years ago—the establishment pick, not quite trusted by die-hard conservatives, with a series of wacky foils arrayed against him. On most issues, Rubio is a Romney or George W. Bush redux. But on reproductive rights, he’s more like Todd Akin. Rubio has been very clear that he believes that when a woman is impregnated through rape or incest, the state should force her to carry the pregnancy to term. The fact that the mainstream Republican favorite holds this position is a sign of just how far right the GOP has moved.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that the super PAC supporting Jeb Bush, Right to Rise, has filmed a video attacking Rubio as “ultimately unelectable because of his hard-line stand against abortion.” But when the Huffington Post asked Bush himself about the subject, he declined to press the critique, instead stressing his own anti-abortion bona fides. This makes sense, because Rubio’s position, not Bush’s, is now the normative one in their party.

Tuesday night, Rubio said that parenthood is the most important job anyone will ever have. It was, on the surface, an utterly banal statement, a routine recitation of reverence for the family. But when you consider that Rubio believes in a nationwide program of coerced motherhood—which is what an abortion ban is—his words take on a slightly different cast. He’s an extremist who seems like an earnest Boy Scout. There’s a not inconsiderable chance that he’ll be the next president.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.