Republicans, if you don't want to keep losing, pay attention to what voters are telling you

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I agree with Ron DeSantis. As he said at Wednesday’s third GOP presidential debate, I’m sick of Republicans losing elections. The Florida governor made this dig against former President Donald Trump, who once again didn’t bother to show up.

I’m starting to wonder about other conservatives, though. It kind of seems like they want to lose.

I don’t want to see Joe Biden and Kamala Harris get a second term. And with a year to go until the next presidential election, the GOP can't dither in honing its message – or its candidates.

The elections this week were yet another discouraging reminder that Republicans are out of touch with what the majority of the country wants. In Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia, abortion was on the ballot in one fashion or another, and voters overwhelmingly sided with abortion rights – and candidates who support them.

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From what we’ve seen in the midterm elections last year and Tuesday’s results, that issue alone could determine the outcome of 2024.

Nikki Haley's got the right idea on abortion

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, regulating abortion returned to the states and the people. Many conservatives had long said that’s what they wanted, although now they appear to be eyeing a national ban – or some set of national restrictions.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Republican presidential debate on Nov. 8, 2023, in Miami.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Republican presidential debate on Nov. 8, 2023, in Miami.

Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, stood out at Wednesday's debate from the other four candidates in her stance on abortion. She repeated how she is “unapologetically pro-life,” but that she understands any kind of national ban isn’t possible now, given the political dynamics in Congress. And she seems content with letting the states grapple with the issue.

“As much as I’m pro-life, I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice, and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life,” she said.

South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace has echoed similar sentiments, and other Republicans really need to pay attention. (In case the MAGA crowd has forgotten, Trump is also opposed to a federal ban and has criticized states enacting strict bans, like DeSantis did in Florida. Although, with Trump, his views on abortion seem more politically expedient than deeply held.)

Republicans and abortion: If GOP doesn't listen to Nancy Mace on abortion, the party can count on losing big in 2024

Voters in Ohio this week made it clear they weren’t happy with the direction that state was going in. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and the GOP legislature had signed off on a six-week ban (with no exceptions for rape or incest), which no doubt motivated many people to go to the polls.

Roughly 1 in 5 Republicans supported the measure to amend the Ohio's constitution, along with a majority of independent voters.

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What’s ironic to me in states like Michigan, which passed a similar constitutional abortion amendment last year, and Ohio is that the pro-life proponents ended up with much more lenient abortion provisions than those states had before Roe.

In other words, it got worse.

If Republicans don’t come up with a plan – and soon – on how to address abortion, they will keep losing on this issue.

Top of the ticket really matters. Don't settle for Trump.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Republicans. A CNN exit poll in Ohio found that voters trust the GOP more with the economy. Other polls have consistently found that Republicans come out ahead on economic issues, immigration, crime and national security.

The party needs to play to those strengths, which means the GOP-controlled U.S. House needs to get its act together and prove it can accomplish the most basic of tasks, such as funding the federal government and sending aid to our allies overseas. It’s running out of time to do that.

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And Republicans must have a candidate at the top of the ticket who can speak eloquently on all these issues. As DeSantis said at the debate, Trump ‒ who remains the GOP front-runner ‒ is not the same candidate he was in 2016. Too much has happened and he comes with too much baggage.

Call me a dreamer, but DeSantis or Haley at the top could bring fresh enthusiasm for a party that’s lost its way.

And best of all, they'd have the strongest shot at beating Biden.

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at or on X, formerly Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republicans keep losing. Can they get their act together for 2024?