Republicans want to make the upcoming midterm elections about inflation. Democrats want to stress abortion. Republicans will probably prevail—especially if they don’t talk too much about abortion and let the Democrats stress the issue too much.
The conventional wisdom holds that 2022 will be a big Republican year. The President’s party almost always loses seats in Congress as the voters use the ballot box to take out their frustrations with the President. The GOP will almost certainly win majority of the seats in he House of Representatives and it may even win back the Senate as well. Next January we may see Kevin McCarthy Speaker of the House, with Mitch McConnell reclaiming the Senate majority leadership too.
Republicans will try to maximize their gains by emphasizing inflation. No issue has a greater impact on voter behavior than the state of the economy. Since 1840 the voters have always punished the President and his party if they disapprove his handling of the economy. The fact that presidents’ ability to affect the economy one way or the other is limited is irrelevant. The voters always hold the president and his party accountable, fairly or not. Little wonder, then, that the GOP wants to make inflation the centerpiece of its campaign to win back the Congress. And little wonder that the Democrats are seizing on abortion to divert public attention away from inflation.
Public opinions consistently show that Americans, by a 2 to 1 majority, want to preserve Roe v. Wade, so it’s only natural that the Democrats would want to exploit public dissatisfaction with the probability that the Supreme Court will overturn it. But the Democratic efforts may backfire for several reasons.
First, while it’s highly unlikely the Supreme Court will keep Roe v. Wade in its current form, it may just scale it back rather than overturn it entirely. What’s prompting the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade is a case before it in which the main question is whether Mississippi can limit abortion to within the first 15 weeks of pregnancy without eliminating abortion entirely. If the Supreme Court decides to abandon the Alito draft in favor of the decision Chief Justice Roberts wants instead, much of the anger over the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade may diminish, to the Democrats’ disadvantage.
Second, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned entirely, such a decision will ban abortion nowhere. It will merely return to each state the power to enact and enforce its own abortion regulations. No doubt the more socially conservative red states such as Texas and Mississippi will impose more limits on abortion, but many blue states, such as California and New York, already have abortion laws far more liberal and with fewer restrictions than those allowed by Roe. The realization that abortion rights in the populous blue states will in no way be diminished may also mitigate the public anger the Democrats seek to exploit.
And finally, Democratic officials and candidates for office run the risk of repelling voters by trying to remove abortion restrictions. The fact that two-thirds of the public supports Roe v. Wade doesn’t mean widespread support for eliminating most if not all restrictions on abortion. Most Americans are uneasy about excessive control by the government on what they consider to be a fundamentally private decision between a pregnant woman and her doctor. But as the fetus becomes more identifiably human in the latter stages of pregnancy, doubts about abortion may rise. Proposed legislation before Congress eliminating most restrictions on abortion at any time during a pregnancy may backfire should the voting public deem that proposed policy too radical.
Of course, the GOP, in its zeal to place new limits on abortion, must also guard against appearing to be too extreme, even in the reddest of states. For example, a Missouri Senate candidate lost a perfectly winnable election after asserting that it was medically impossible for a woman to become pregnant through rape. A Republican candidate for an Indiana Senate seat did, in fact, acknowledge that rape could lead to pregnancy, but nonetheless argued that rape victims should not be entitled to abortions and rather should nonetheless consider their pregnancies a “gift from God.” Whatever the virtues of opposing the killing of the fetus for the sins of its rapist-father, he too through away a Republican seat to a Democrat. By the way, when the Democratic beneficiaries of Republican anti-abortion zealotry ran for re-election, they promptly lost their seats to more mentally normal Republicans. It’s wise, if one is anti-abortion, to make some reasonable exceptions and remember that being pro-life means being concerned not only for the unborn baby but for its mother as well; one can at least retain electability despite advocating more restrictions on abortion than most Americans want. But it’s even wiser, given Republican bungling of the abortion issue in the past, to avoid it altogether if possible.
In sum, each party has its issue to stress and its narrative to offer the American people. Exactly which side will prevail is not completely set in stone. But if the Republicans can keep their wits about them, keep the focus on inflation, and avoid or at least minimize talk of abortion, the Democrats will be more likely to find themselves in the minority next November. At best, abortion will fail to arouse as much support for the Democrats as inflation will for the Republicans. At worst, Democratic zeal on abortion could make them look too extreme. Then their best course of action will be to pick up the pieces and get ready for 2024.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.