Polling has long shown that despite all the culture war noise, abortion rights are popular. That became even clearer after Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe, and the loss of a constitutional right that existed for half a century was no longer hypothetical.
Conservative Kansas was the first sign that Republicans had miscalculated, rejecting efforts to allow the legislature to impose a ban by a whopping 59-41 margin in a single-issue election in August, just a few months after the court overturned Roe.
Michigan’s abortion-rights referendum passed in November with an easy 57-43 margin. And even in McConnell’s Kentucky—home of the second-largest evangelical population in the country (49%!)—an effort to ban abortion was defeated at the ballot box by a 52-48% margin.
Running on a platform of (anti-Trump) democracy and abortion, Democrats didn’t just avoid the typical midterm defeat of the party in the White House, nullifying a promised “red wave” Republican victory. They actually won the election, gaining a seat in the Senate, picking up governorships, and holding all their legislative chambers—the first time the party in the White House accomplished that in a midterm since 1934. Meanwhile, Democrats picked up both chambers in swing-state Michigan (while easily holding the governorship), got the trifecta in Minnesota by winning the state Senate, and flipped the Pennsylvania House. Democrats also completed the trifecta with governorships in Massachusetts and Maryland. In swing-state Arizona, Democrats scored a near-sweep of statewide races, including the critical governorship and secretary of state offices.
Republicans picked up the House, but did so only because of redistricting. Their 2024 outlook isn’t particularly rosy.
Since November, Democrats have continued to outperform President Joe Biden’s 2020 numbers in numerous special elections, and Tuesday confirmed to horrified conservatives that the abortion issue isn’t going anyway. In fact, it might very well doom their electoral chances for some time.
The marquee race was the Wisconsin Supreme Court. At stake was control of the court between liberal and conservative factions. Democrats had struggled over the past several decades to motivate voters to participate in nominally “nonpartisan” judicial races, while conservatives used abortion to rally its faithful to the polls. Had McConnell not rigged the confirmation process to ensure a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, this “ignorance is bliss” approach might have continued unabated. Had the Supreme Court simply continued to chip away at abortion rights, as it had done for decades, we’d have the boiling frog metaphor, with liberal voters gradually accommodating to the new restrictions with little furor. However, the end of Roe put abortion front and center.
“The Wisconsin Supreme Court has the potential to restore abortion rights if it hears a challenge to the state’s 1849 near-total abortion ban — a fact that nearly half the ads supporting Protasiewicz emphasized,” reported Wisconsin Watch. “Mentions of abortion surpassed the second-most popular topic by about 4-to-1.” Meanwhile, Republicans tried to avoid the topic altogether. If you’re wondering what they were talking about, it was crime and transphobia.
Conservative campaign messages sent to some Wisconsin voters on election eve echoed this “woke woke woke” messaging:
There’s a different story to be written about the continued failure of the Republican “woke” messaging. It’s an abject disaster. Republicans simply didn’t turn out to “end the trans madness.” But abortion? Oh boy, did it ever change the equation, and the Democratic candidate, Janet Protasiewicz, cruised to an easy 56-44 victory—in Wisconsin, the most 50-50 divided state in the nation.
David Nir covered what this means for Wisconsin—the protection of abortion rights and the likely end of one of the worst partisan legislative gerrymanders in the country. But the fallout isn’t limited to Wisconsin. Many conservatives have finally realized they’re in trouble—as in lasting trouble—over their abortion stances.
Ironically, it was Donald Trump who first touched that conservative third rail publicly, saying that Republicans lost the 2022 midterm elections over “the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on no exceptions, even in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother, that lost large numbers of voters.” He was slammed by evangelicals over that statement, and they’re not happy at his continued insistence in avoiding the topic.
After Tuesday’s results, Republican Party chair Ronna McDaniels went on Fox News to claim it was just a messaging problem. “When you’re losing by 10 points, there is a messaging issue, and abortion is still an issue,” she said. “I’m a suburban woman, I know this is an issue. I hear it with my friends, with my young daughter. This is not an issue that’s going away for our party in a post-Dobbs world, and we can’t put our head in the sand and think it’s going to heading into 2024.”
McDaniels is right and wrong at the same time. She’s right that the message is the problem. She’s wrong in that it’s a messaging problem. There’s no way to message, “We’re taking away your rights, and you should be happy about it!”
John Schweppe of the ultra-conservative Claremont Institute thinks abortion would be just peachy and popular for Republicans, if only they were more reasonable about it.
Republicans need to figure out the abortion issue ASAP. We are getting killed by indie voters who think we support full bans with no exceptions.Time for everyone to suck it up and unify behind @LindseyGrahamSC’s 15-wk bill w/ exceptions. That’s the play.The alternative is suiciding the pro-life movement. We are months away from that happening.
We just lost Wisconsin by like 15. If the pro-life movement doesn’t figure this out and get the GOP on board, the GOP is gonna just abandon the issue and eventually start telling voters they don’t care about saving babies. Ego checks need to happen now. It’s do or die time.
It’s not going to get better until we figure this out. We will lose 2024 over it too — and that would probably be the end.
Please listen to me. The death of the pro-life movement is at hand — we have no time to waste on disagreements over strategery. We need to give GOP politicians a winning message on life NOW. If we don’t, they will abandon us and embrace “no federal role.”
There is some real cope believing that more than a small minority is interested in this kind of approach. Moderates and liberals are done with any effort by Republicans to restrict abortion. The jig is up, and it’s now common knowledge that abortion is just the first step. They are using the same legal reasoning to go after same-sex marriage, contraception, and other cherished rights. Suddenly, pretending there’s a reasonable middle ground is fooling no one.
Meanwhile, the same people who have spent half a century claiming that abortion murders children in some sort of holocaust are now going to proclaim, “It’s okay to murder babies for 15 weeks”? If the center and left are like “nope,” imagine the hard-core true-believer right. They really have no interest in Lindsey Graham’s supposed compromise. The anti-abortion movement spent decades radicalizing its activists, convincing them that they weren’t just morally right, but that their position was popular with the American people. But it wasn’t.
Take Ann Coulter. In her book “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter,” she wrote:
“The idea that making an activity legal would reduce its incidence is preposterous. This is exactly like the Clintonian statement about wanting to make abortion ‘safe, legal and rare.’ The most effective way to make something ‘rare’ is to make it illegal.”
She’s also written:
“Taxes are like abortion, and not just because both are grotesque procedures supported by Democrats.”
“In the druidical religion of liberalism, not separating your recyclables is a sin, but abortion is just a medical procedure.”
“I think we’re going to have to call on God’s grace not only for slavery, but for what we’re doing now with abortions.”
“Stem-cell research on embryos is an even worse excuse for the slaughter of life than abortion. No woman is even being spared an inconvenience this time. … It’s just harvest and slaughter, harvest and slaughter, harvest and slaughter.”
Given all that talk about “slaughter” and “make it illegal,” you’d think Coulter is now happy that Roe is no longer the law of the land, and that Republicans are fighting to make it illegal both at the state level and at the federal level. But, uh, you’d be wrong.
The demand for anti-abortion legislation just cost Republicans another crucial race.
Pro-lifers: WE WON. Abortion is not a “constitutional right” anymore! Please stop pushing strict limits on abortion, or there will be no Republicans left.https://t.co/HK2pxV0geY
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 5, 2023
See? It was never about dead babies. It was about abortion being a constitutional right. It was just a law review argument! Now that it’s no longer one of those, it’s all okay! Stand down now that we’ve won this semantic legal battle!
It’s as if … it’s as if all the talk about dead babies was never sincere! For some reason, this Coulter quote seems suddenly apropos: “The Democrats pretended to care about black people for about five minutes to help their electoral process, and then civil rights suddenly became abortion on demand, gay marriage, rights for the homeless, etc.”
With conservatives, everything is projection.
We’ve seen the signs since the day the draft Dobbs decision was leaked: increased Democratic engagement and realignment of college-educated white suburban women (and maybe even some men). The 2022 election results made it clear to most people, if not conservative activists. It was obvious enough that even Trump noticed.
But Wisconsin? Tuesday made it painfully obvious to Republicans that they have backed themselves into a corner they can’t easily escape.
Watch Republicans now pretend that they don’t know what this “abortion” thing is that Democrats keep wanting to talk about, and watch our side continue mobilizing as conservative evangelicals seethe. That’s not a winning formula for any Republican campaign outside of Marjorie Taylor Greene-style deep-red districts.
I do hope Schweppe is right, and the abortion issue heralds “the death of the pro-life movement.” It would surely get top billing in the dictionary entry for “pyrrhic victory.” Even better if it takes down the conservative movement along with it.