For the 2022 Midterm Results, Thank the Supreme Court - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
For the 2022 Midterm Results, Thank the Supreme Court
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Protests after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling (Eli Wilson/Shutterstock.com)

First, something of a mea culpa. In a recent note on these pages, I expressed my opinion that voters would focus on issues like the economy and crime rather than on “threats to democracy.” While it’s true that many more voters did the former than the latter, results around the nation show that when those perceived threats were embodied in specific individual candidates rather than in the form of any Republican, which was the argument Democrats had tried to make, voters emphatically rejected the “election deniers.”

To be a nationally electable party going forward, the GOP must figure out how to talk about, and legislate about, abortion.

As of this writing, the electoral fate of Kari Lake, the flamboyant Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, remains unknown even as from the middle of October up through Election Day there was only one poll that showed her Democratic opponent in the lead, and that was only by 1 percent. Thus, if Lake wins, it will simultaneously represent a significant underperformance compared to expectations and an infinitely better performance than any other Republican who campaigned on “the stolen 2020 election”; all the rest of them lost.

What turned into the critical issue for this election, however, for so many other Republicans in swing districts and swing states was abortion. It seemed almost ignored by Republican pundits and most pollsters even as Democrats were bombarding the airwaves calling every GOP candidate a threat to the freedom of women and, perhaps, to their very lives. (They even ran such ads against the mostly-pro-choice Republican candidate for Senate in my home state of Colorado, who had said that he would prefer that Roe v. Wade not be overturned.)

Although the prior defeat of an anti-abortion ballot measure in Kansas and of a Republican candidate for Congress in a special election in New York should have been a more recognizable canary in the coal mine, one can’t entirely blame the experts for underestimating the power of the issue when so few Americans named it as the most important issue facing our nation.

Indeed, in a credible exit poll immediately after the election, 47 percent of voters surveyed said that the economy/inflation was the main issue facing the country; only 9 percent said abortion. But when those same people were asked what the main issue was that influenced their votes, 31 percent said the economy and 27 percent said abortion. A significant majority of the latter group voted for Democrats.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University released a study on Friday that showed that young voters (ages 18–29) had their second-highest turnout in any midterm since at least 1994. (The highest was in 2018, when they turned out in record numbers to demonstrate their opposition to President Donald Trump by crushing Republican candidates for almost everything.)

Of the 27 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Americans who cast ballots this year, 62 percent voted for Democrats and 35 percent for Republicans. While this was actually a better showing for Republicans than in 2018 among this cohort, it was nevertheless the second-highest overall pro-Democrat lean for young voters in well over 30 years.

In fact, according to CIRCLE, “youth ages 18-29 are the only age group in which a strong majority supported Democrats” [emphasis in original].

A few key races: In the Arizona Senate race, 76 percent of young voters went for the Democrat. In New Hampshire’s Senate race it was 74 percent, and 70 percent of youth voters went for John Fetterman over Dr. Mehmet Oz.

In short, experts misunderestimated (thank you, W) the import of the Dobbs decision on the 2022 midterms because people responding to polls either hid or didn’t realize until they were holding their ballots the fact that they were angry enough about the direction of abortion policy in America that they were willing to vote against what they knew were their own economic interests in protest.

To be a nationally electable party going forward, the GOP must figure out how to talk about, and legislate about, abortion.

Republicans who push for abortion bans beginning at conception, or at some number of weeks so small that many pregnant women might not have recognized that they’re pregnant before an abortion would have already been barred by law, will not succeed, and may be tossed out of office, outside of the reddest districts and, perhaps, the reddest states.

A majority of Americans want abortion to be legal some of the time … and they’re fine with it being illegal beginning at some point, such as halfway through a pregnancy. (Abortions after about halfway through a pregnancy have historically represented something like 1.5 percent of all abortions.)

Many pro-life Americans have a deeply held belief that life begins at conception and abortion should never be permitted except, perhaps, to save the life of the mother. I don’t begrudge anyone their honestly held views, but that position is, and will long be in most places, a political loser. Again, Republicans will have to figure how to get half a loaf on this issue because trying to get a whole loaf will cause the oven to explode in their faces.

After the Dobbs decision, almost all congressional Republicans stated that the result was all they ever wanted: to have the issue returned to the states where it belongs. Then, in one of the most boneheaded moves I’ve seen in a long time, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) offered a Senate bill to ban abortion beginning at 15 weeks. He thought he would be demonstrating that Republicans aren’t extremists because they just want something that looks like the same sort of restriction that is in place for most of Europe, not an outright ban beginning at or near conception. But all that most Americans took from it was “they were lying about not wanting to pass a federal ban.” Major unforced error.

All that said, there’s one way in which the postelection discussion of abortion as a factor in the Republicans’ massive disappointment has missed the target: Many people have blamed the Supreme Court for turning so many voters, especially young voters, against the GOP.

The critics say sarcastically, “Thanks SCOTUS,” to which I say unsarcastically, “Thanks, SCOTUS.”

Yes, the Dobbs decision hurt Republicans significantly in 2022. But it was incredibly fortunate for the GOP that the decision happened this year instead of two or four years earlier. In the 2022 midterms, the macroenvironment for Republicans was as good as it has been in many years. Democrats were (and still are) on their heels about inflation, crime, fentanyl, wokeness infiltrating schools, and more. Meaning that the anti-GOP sentiment created by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade was offset by a pro-GOP tailwind on essentially every other issue (except a handful of overt “election deniers” as discussed above).

In the absence of the very high hopes for the GOP this cycle, if I told you that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe and that the result would be little or no change in the Senate and the Republicans likely taking back the majority in the House of Representatives, every Republican leader would have said, “I’ll take that trade, but there’s no way it will turn out that well for us.”

But it did.

Imagine the damage that would have befallen Republican candidates in the 2020 elections if Dobbs had happened six months before that election. You would have gone through the last two years with larger Democrat majorities in both chambers of Congress, and you would have seen legislation pass that would have been worse than even the disasters and travesties that this nation has suffered since Biden became president. After all, with just one more Democratic senator, Joe Manchin could not have thrown sand in the gears of his party’s most maximalist plans.

And if Dobbs had happened in early 2016, Hillary Clinton would have beaten Donald Trump.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade was always going to be a political calamity for Republicans, though many would be quite willing to undergo those tribulations in order to be rid of that hated legislation-disguised-as-jurisprudence. The fact that it happened in 2022, when the prevailing political winds were as much in Republicans’ favor as any for a generation, except for the Tea Party wave of 2010, was a political miracle for the GOP.

Republicans need to learn how to manage abortion as a political issue. It’s going to mean not proposing federal legislation and being willing, in most states, to accept, until such time as pro-life activists are able to sway public opinion, abortion being legal for at least the first trimester of a pregnancy.

But overturning Roe was the hard part. To get through that without a national blue wave should cause Republicans to offer an enormous sign of relief and say, without a hint of sarcasm, “Thanks, SCOTUS.”

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