Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s response to the leaked majority opinion draft that would overturn Roe v. Wade was to focus on the leak rather than to celebrate the end of five decades of abortion being dictated from on high. “I think the story today is an effort by someone on the inside to discredit the institution,” he told reporters last week.
McConnell’s strategy set the tone for Republicans. Sen. Ted Cruz condemned the leaker at multiple press appearances while others downplayed the draft opinion as much as possible. Former President Donald Trump released no statement on the Dobbs opinion — a deviation from his practice of celebrating his accomplishments — while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis settled for cautioning that the outcome of the case remained unclear.
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa gave little weight to the draft opinion’s impact, saying that overturning Roe would be “a little blip” in the political environment. “I don’t see that as being a decision point for Iowa voters,” she said.
Indiana Sen. Mike Braun claimed that the Democrats’ newfound focus on abortion was an attempt to distract from the issues of “the border, inflation, crime, all the other issues.” He claimed that he, unlike the Democrats, was focused on trying to fix “real issues.” He said: “Sadly, we get deflected and distracted in many cases.”
The Republican strategy, especially in the House and Senate, was thus to disassociate the party from the end of the Roe. The exception to this was state legislators and governors in deep red states or candidates in competitive primaries who are most focused on garnering the base’s support.
The attitude garnered headlines such as “Republicans, on cusp of abortion win, seek to change the subject” and “G.O.P. Lawmakers Recast Abortion Stance, Wary of Voter Backlash.”
Republicans’ avoidance is motivated by polling which shows that overturning Roe is widely unpopular. In a poll conducted by YouGov immediately following the leak, 51 percent of Americans said they believe Roe should not be overturned while only 31 percent said they support a reversal of the 1973 decision. Since Republican leaders fear that the end of Roe will push independents toward the Democrats, their focus has been to cajole them with the argument that the Dobbs ruling doesn’t matter since abortion will still be widely available.
This is, however, a terrible strategy. It amounts to pretending that a decision that will reverberate across America is irrelevant. The elimination of Roe will shift the five-alarm-fire attitude that has characterized many Supreme Court nomination hearings in the decades since the 1973 decision (such as those for Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett) to elections. If Republicans don’t match fire for fire in these races, they’ll be shown up by Democrats’ resolution and passion.
Each state race will directly impact abortion law. Every candidate will have to run for or against abortion — and state legislatures and governors will then determine abortion law for that state. Though abortion will likely remain widely available in the United States, that will do little to lessen the consequence assigned to state elections due to the the moral gravity of abortion for both sides.
Regarding national elections, it’s true that neither party is likely to gain enough support in Congress to pass a law codifying Roe or outlawing abortion in the near future. But the fear that one side could will be highly motivational. For conservatives, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema may be the only blockade stopping the Democrats from nuking the filibuster. And liberals are also frantic over the possibility that Republicans could end the filibuster once they gain back the Senate. The days of abortion being part of elections only indirectly through Supreme Court nominations are over.
Pretending the end of Roe doesn’t matter will not garner votes in these elections. What convinces people is passion and vision — not burying the magnitude of something and scurrying away.
The Left will throw its energy into convincing the populace that each race is vital to stopping the greatest act of authoritarianism ever inflicted upon women. If the Right does not engage in kind and seek to convince that each race is vital to stopping the mass murder of innocent children, those in the middle will be convinced by the only side offering a compelling vision.
This is exactly the time for Republicans to argue without compromise that abortion is the killing of innocent children. Republicans should use this as the beginning of a movement to end the evil regime of mass murder that has infected America for decades. That’s something people can get on board with.
There are of course electoral risks in being unabashed against abortion. Republicans fear doing so would alienate the part of the electorate that favors some restrictions on abortion but does not wish to outlaw it entirely. And in fact, only 8 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal at all stages of pregnancy without exception, according to the Pew Research Center.
But consider these statistics: 73 percent of Americans believe that an unborn baby is a human being and 61 percent believe that abortion should not be allowed “any time, on demand, and without apology.” Those numbers signal to Republicans that there is fertile ground to convince and persuade if a compelling alternative vision to abortion is offered. Americans who have these qualms will now be faced with the direct moral responsibility of electing lawmakers who will legalize or outlaw abortion. Conservatives can activate their consciences.
If there’s one thing the Right has learned in the past year, it’s that taking a stand and not backing down can bring people to your side and achieve goals that seemed impossible. The Right’s unapologetic crusade against critical race theory over the past couple years has passed numerous state laws, pushed the hateful content out of hundreds of schools, and elected Republican Glenn Youngkin to the Virginia governorship. Going on the attack with a strong moral vision generates a movement.
Only a few years before the election of Youngkin, most Americans had never heard of critical race theory. But thanks to the persuasive and energizing efforts of conservative activists like Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute, parents were activated to lobby against the ideology. Youngkin pledged to ban the teaching of critical race theory on “day one,” and after Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” momentum generated by the parents’ rights movement shifted the race toward Youngkin and he won by two percentage points — a complete turnaround after Biden won the presidency in Virginia by 10 percentage points.
Youngkin gives Republicans a blueprint for success: attract moderates by invigorating the base in an unapologetic yet inoffensive way and build that energy and enthusiasm out to people who are more moderate. For example, Youngkin said, “We should not be teaching our children to see everything through the lens of race.” That fired up conservatives while also building support among moderates by offering them a principled stance and energized group of people they could get behind.
Republican candidates who do not go all in on seeking to outlaw abortion will face a tough road in primaries because they will be unable to generate the support of the party’s base. Pro-life bonafides have been central to conservative elections for decades even though those lawmakers have been unable to seriously restrict abortion. Now that lawmakers likely will be able to change abortion law, the pro-life base will be even more invigorated.
The proportion of Republicans who believe abortion should be illegal in all cases is relatively small. According to Pew, it’s just 13 percent, though this excludes those who would ban abortion in all cases except when the life of the mother is at risk. But it’s this group which has an overrepresented role in primaries and sets the priorities for the rest of the party.
Republicans who believe abortion should be illegal in all stages of pregnancy have been overwhelmingly successful in electing representatives who echo that vision and seek to implement it. The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute estimates that 27 states will ban abortion if Roe is overturned. That kind of electoral success ingrained over decades will not go away easily.
The best way for Republicans to win the midterms is to celebrate the end of Roe and build a pro-life coalition starting from the base and extending out to moderates. Republicans should make Democrats face up to pictures of children in the womb and own up to their plans to enact laws that would kill them up to the moment of birth. See how that works out for Democrats at the ballot box.
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