The Republican Party, the political home of a four-decade, church-allied, moral crusade against abortion rights, is having second thoughts.

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported on Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake’s “tactical retreat” from her past position on abortion. Lake, a Donald Trump acolyte and true believer in expediency, had previously cheered for a 19th century Arizona law that criminalized abortion and had called for Arizona to become a “sanctuary state for the unborn.” Now, she has joined Trump and other Republicans who are eager “to recalibrate on an issue that has become a political albatross in battleground states and beyond.”

If you think of politics as just another racket, this makes perfect sense. Since the Republican-appointed justices on the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade last year, the issue has gained salience, with even red state voters opting decisively against the kind of abortion bans that for years red state politicians promised to enact.

The political backlash, aided by GOP legislation in states such as Texas, which forces women to carry even unviable pregnancies to term, imposing government-decreed punishment atop personal tragedy, has been measurable. While it’s difficult to parse specifically how much abortion — as opposed to, say, attempted coups and the like — is responsible for GOP electoral problems, it’s clear that opposition to abortion has cost Republicans in state and some local elections. The GOP significantly underperformed in the 2022 midterms.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who was in charge of the party’s 2022 US Senate campaigns, had this to say about abortion last year: “The Republican position on abortion is based on a fundamental belief that life begins at conception. It’s a conclusion grounded in faith and values, but also in science.”

Faith, values and science have all taken a detour since 2022. The GOP is instead beginning to coalesce around the position that human life kinda, sorta, maybe begins at conception, but that actually, especially in certain politically important states, it’s okay to kill as long as you do it in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. Even 15 weeks is a more restrictive timeline than the party’s moral and spiritual leader, Donald Trump, is willing to endorse publicly. He attacked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing a six-week abortion ban and mumbled something about letting states decide the issue.

On one hand, GOP incoherence on abortion is just further evidence that the party has no core beliefs beyond White Christian conservative tribalism. On the other hand, it’s slightly worse than that.

Abortion wasn’t just another issue. The GOP, after all, is a party that champions tax cuts for the wealthy and savage cuts to free lunches for poor children. It aggressively favors carbon-emitting energy that imperils the planet and damages human lungs over clean alternatives. It works to keep workers disorganized and weak, the better to deliver high profits to its donor class. It runs on the fuel of racial resentment. Its leadership class is populated by liars and grifters — from Trump to Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the “political terrorist” with a dodgy past who much of the House GOP conference concluded is very fine speaker material.

For a subset of Republicans, abortion offered a respite from the grubby and dishonest politics that otherwise defines, and consumes, the party. If you believed life begins at conception, this was one issue where the GOP was not purely the servant of entrenched racial, religious, social, and economic status and power. As the leader of one anti-abortion group said when Trump began publicly waffling, “We’re at a moment where we need a human rights advocate, someone who is dedicated to saving the lives of children and serving mothers in need.” Human rights. Saving children. Serving mothers. Not the kind of chatter that accompanies GOP food-stamp cuts.

Of course, critics have long argued that restricting abortion was just another way to subjugate women and constrain their freedom. Abortion became a right-wing issue roughly in sync with the rise of feminism and new manifestations of female power that alarmed social conservatives. Surely, that wasn’t a coincidence.

But not everyone in the pro-life camp was a misogynist or a charlatan. Some believed. Their sincerity was first exploited by Republican presidents who accidentally appointed judges who upheld the constitutionality of Roe. Then Trump, never one to think too far ahead, ended that ruse with his slate of three anti-abortion appointees. Now he’s eager to backpedal out of being the self-proclaimed “most pro-life president” in history. The polls are telling him he’d rather be someone else.

Will the GOP convolution on abortion, which promises to be ludicrous as well as dishonest, inflict damage on Trump and his party from a wrathful anti-abortion base? I wouldn’t count on it. Since 2016, lies have been the hard currency of Republican politics. Everyone is used to it by now. GOP leaders and the propaganda apparatus based at Fox News will work to push race, religion, gender identity and other tribal factors to the fore. The party’s betrayal of the anti-abortion movement will necessarily recede.

Still, there will be a psychic cost to the surrender. The GOP is dominated by a thoroughly amoral man. Many who support Trump understand that. As pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas said back in 2016, when Trump’s thuggishness was still unnerving a few Christian conservatives, “I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find in that role, and I think that’s where many evangelicals are.” They were never confused about what they were voting for.

Yet, abortion was one issue where Christian conservatives could tell themselves they were on the side of the weak and defenseless. The anointed victims were not White men looking to exercise the racial and sexual prerogatives of the 1950s. The movement’s claims were not strictly tribal: “We care about Black babies, too!”

Oh well. Republicans will remain committed to abortion restrictions wherever the political price is not too high. Elsewhere, they’ll dodge and duck. The Trump-led GOP in 2024 will not run as the party of the unborn. Just the party of the suborned.

Francis Wilkinson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering US politics and policy.