The ‘other’ issue in the midterms — the one that could hurt the GOP
I’m starting to wonder if that big, red wave we keep hearing about is going to be as big and as red when all the votes are counted in November. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has stopped predicting the predictable red wave, at least as far as the Senate is concerned. And no, it’s not because of the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago — which, who knows, may actually help Republicans before this is over.
For quite some time now, we’ve heard that there’s one overriding issue in the midterm elections: inflation. When prices of food and a lot of other things we need are going up, and when rising prices outpace pay increases, then, sure, inflation matters — a lot.
But I keep thinking abortion may be a bigger issue than a lot of my Republican friends think it is. Bigger even than the polls indicate. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats finally had a lifeline; they finally had something to run on. Without abortion as an issue, a lot of Democrats, I suspect, would have stayed home on Election Day. Now, they’re energized.
It’s not only Democrats. Moderate Republicans, especially college-educated women who live in the suburbs, just might be thinking about abortion, too. Same with independent, swing voters. Abortion also may energize younger voters who don’t usually show up at the polls on Election Day. They finally may have something they care enough about to drop what they’re doing and go out to vote.
Americans are moderates on the issue of abortion. They’re okay with abortion in the first trimester, less so in the second, and only the fringe supports abortion after that. But many pro-life Republican politicians are out of touch with mainstream America. Pro-life Republicans in more than a few states have banned all abortions in their states — in some cases with no exemptions, even for rape or incest.
If the Republican Party is seen as the “Ban Abortion Party with No Exemptions” that can’t help the GOP in general, or its candidates in swing districts in particular.
The New York Times is keeping track of state abortion laws in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision and reports that, “Abortion is now banned in at least 10 states as laws restricting the procedure take effect following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Another four states now ban abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. More bans are expected in the coming weeks. …”
Total bans on abortion may please people who believes that human life is sacred and begins at inception — and it’s not easy to compromise on abortion if you see it mainly as a moral issue. But the world of politics is a lot different from the world of morality. In the world of politics, compromise isn’t a sin; it’s a necessity to get things done. So, if you want to win elections you have to make concessions; you have to appeal to the vast middle. Talking about outlawing abortion with no ifs, ands or buts and prosecuting women who cross state lines to get an abortion is not a political winner.
Even if the states with the most restrictions on abortion are Republican strongholds, voters in swing districts in every state in the union will wonder how far Republicans might go if they gain control of Congress and the White House. Will they try to impose a total ban on abortion in all 50 states? What a politician says about abortion in Alabama or Mississippi may hurt a Republican running in a suburb of Philadelphia.
We might learn something from the recent vote in Kansas, a reliably red state. Voters there were asked if they wanted to remove the right to abortion from their state constitution and let politicians in the legislature decide what to do about abortion. Nearly 60 percent of voters said, no thanks — we don’t want to give pols that kind of power.
And, yes, there’s extremism on the other side, too. A lot of Democrats want abortion rights with virtually no restrictions. That’s not in the American mainstream, either. But that kind of extremism is not something that’s widely known in America, thanks to how liberals in the media tell the abortion story.
I’m not saying the red wave isn’t coming — inflation and (let’s not forget) history are powerful tailwinds that should benefit Republicans this November. And who knows how the raid at Donald Trump’s home in Florida will affect voters. But I am saying that abortion matters. Before this is over, we may find out that it matters more than a lot of Republicans think.
Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Substack page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.