Ross Douthat heroically engages the attempt to blame the meltdown of the Republican Party on pro-lifers. In an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times, Douthat quotes from a litany of country club GOP voices, all saying a similar thing: the Republicans would’ve been able to win the mainstream if not for those noisy, uncompromising people who believe unborn children ought to be protected by law.

One can almost see as one reads the words on the page former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman lifting her head in disgust at the vulgarians.

Douthat argues that pro-lifers are already doing everything their critics say they should do. Persuasively seek to reach hearts and minds? What do you think all those “Choose Life” campaigns are about? And that’s not to mention the local ministries of Catholic dioceses and evangelical churches to persuade parents their children’s lives are worth living. Get at the root causes of abortion and help women in distress? What do you think all those crisis pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, and social-service ministries are about?

Douthat gets at the real nub of the issue:

The public is amenable to compromise: majorities support keeping abortion legal in some cases, but polling by CBS News and The Times during the presidential campaign showed that more Americans supported new restrictions on abortion than said it should be available on demand. And while some pro-lifers would reject any bargain, many more would be delighted to strike a deal that extends legal protection to more of the unborn, even if it stopped short of achieving the movement’s ultimate goals.

“But no such compromise is possible so long as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey remain on the books. These decisions are monuments to pro-choice absolutism, and for pro-lifers to accept them means accepting that no serious legal restrictions on abortion will ever be possible — no matter what the polls say, and no matter how many hearts and minds pro-lifers change.

“Overturning Roe and Casey has never been an easy task, and the election of Barack Obama will make it that much more difficult. Facing a hostile governing majority, pro-lifers can and should talk more about the possibility of compromise: They should explain, more often and more cogently, that if Americans want laws that better reflect their muddled sentiments on abortion, it is pro-choice maximalism, not the pro-life movement, that’s really standing in the way.”

Ultimately, I don’t care what happens to the GOP. There will always be a pro-life movement, with or without the Republicans or the Democrats. I am happy, though, to see someone speak (in the pages of the New York Times, no less) to the cliched rhetoric of the Stephen Douglas wing of the Party of the Lincoln.

P.S. – This summer I had a conversation with Douthat when I guest-hosted the “Albert Mohler Program.” We talked about his book, Grand New Party: How the Republican Party Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream. You can listen to our conversation here.