2022 Governor's Race

The Smothermon Affair

Democrats are making hay over an Albuquerque pastor’s recent revelation that gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti, contrary to his statements on the campaign trail, allegedly said in private that he intends to abolish abortion in the state of New Mexico if elected governor.

Ronchetti is personally pro-life, but his position as governor would be to seek limits on abortion up 15 weeks except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is threatened.

That wasn’t enough for Legacy Church Pastor Steve Smothermon, who said during a recent sermon that he could not support a candidate who thinks abortion is “reasonable up to 15 weeks.”

Smothermon said he pressed Ronchetti at length on the issue, to the point that Ronchetti said a 15-week ban is the beginning, but that he supports a full ban.

Here’s why it doesn’t matter: because Ronchetti couldn’t ban abortion in New Mexico no matter how closely his views align with Pastor Smothermon’s.

Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, with near-super-majorities in the Senate and House. The only way a Gov. Ronchetti could ever see an abortion ban delivered to his desk is if Republicans swept the state house races this November.

That doesn’t appear likely. Even if it did happen, Ronchetti’s position on abortion is that the law should align with the values of the majority of New Mexicans, not that Republicans should push through policies that a vocal minority support.

While we don’t have recent polling specific to New Mexico, we know that New Mexico is more culturally Conservative than the majority of America, and the majority of America supports bans on abortion after the first trimester with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.

Ronchetti’s position on abortion recently won praise (if only for its political acumen) from a writer for the L.A. Times.

In his column, “On abortion, New Mexico Republican shows GOP’s strategy to neutralize issue — paint Democrats as extreme,” Mark Z. Barabak argued that Ronchetti’s stance is likely to be a model for other Republicans this election cycle, because it shifts the debate from whether abortion should be legal to whether it should be limited, which is “far more favorable political terrain for Republicans running in the first national election after the end of Roe.”

“That’s because repeated polls have shown most voters to be more ambivalent about abortion than the zealotry around the issue suggests. While a majority supports the right to legalized abortion — and most disapproved of the decision overturning Roe — a substantial plurality expresses support for restrictions on the procedure, such as a ban after the first trimester of pregnancy.

–“On abortion, New Mexico Republican shows GOP’s strategy to neutralize issue — paint Democrats as extreme,” July 16, 2022

Is Someone Lying?

Democrats are accusing Ronchetti of lying about his position on abortion, though nothing Ronchetti has said indicates that is true. His campaign responded to the accusation by saying that Ronchetti told Smothermon “exactly what he has told everyone else” on the campaign trail, according to The Santa Fe New Mexican.

Even Smothermon clarified his original statement, saying that Ronchetti is clearly pro-life personally and wants to end late-term abortions in New Mexico.

Is someone lying? Possibly, though it’s more likely Smothermon was simply trying to assuage pro-life voters about Ronchetti’s nuanced view on the issue and therefore promised, on Ronchetti’s behalf, what Smothermon and his congregation want Ronchetti to say.

Most voters have a hard time separating the ideal from the possible. This election cycle, a handful of Conservatives have shown themselves to have a low tolerance for anything but Ultra MAGA policy positions, even though Ultra MAGA is a guaranteed slaughter on Election Day.

This is the danger of identity politics–not the race- or gender-based internsectionalities that define Leftism, but the political idolatry of worshipping individuals as if they’re the embodiment of ideological perfection.

Ronchetti is one of the few candidates running for public office who can separate his personal beliefs from the values of the people he seeks to represent. He is pro-life but is running for governor in a Blue state, which requires that he puts aside personal views in favor of policies that are not only plausible from a legislative standpoint, but that appeal to enough voters (meaning “voters outside of his party”) to win.

In New Mexico, where only a third of voters are registered Republicans, vowing to abolish abortion outright is neither possible nor popular. But ending late-term abortions is.

There is no such thing as a perfect candidate. Trump wasn’t. Rebecca Dow wasn’t. Ronchetti isn’t either. But he is reasonable, and he’s meeting people where they are. Voters, pastors included, need to return the favor if they want to move beyond the economic and educational devastation of Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration.

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