The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

Republicans Destined to Repeat Mistakes of 2022

Virginia GOP Eyes 15-Week Abortion Ban.
Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia speaking with supporters of Kari Lake at a campaign rally at Dillon Precision in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Trigger Warning: Mention of rape and incest

Glenn Youngkin is currently in a difficult position: he is a Republican Governor in a state which has been trending blue for well over a decade. After first winning the 2021 Gubernatorial election in an upset victory over the heavily favored incumbent Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Republicans are struggling to win back the state legislature in the state’s fall midterm elections. 

Back in January, Virginia’s 7th Senate district was flipped from Republican to Democrat for the first time in 20 years in a special election, an early warning sign for the Virginia GOP heading into the 2023 midterm election. With a tough election season coming up, Glenn Youngkin has recently decided to make abortion a major issue by promising that he would sign a 15-week abortion ban if Republicans win the state legislature, calling the ban “bipartisan consensus”.

Is 15-weeks really “bipartisan consensus”? If anything is apparent from how Republicans underperformed in the 2022 midterm elections, it’s that abortion is a losing issue for Republicans. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade turned out to be a disaster for Republicans, and more than any other issue cost the GOP the Senate in 2022. The decision placed the issue of abortion at the forefront of voter’s minds, and the extent to which the Republican party miscalculated how the median voter felt about abortion cannot be overstated. 

Content warning: this part contains several mentions of rape and incest. Several states immediately attempted to ban abortion, some even removing exceptions for rape or incest. Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a federal 15-week-abortion ban. Georgia senate candidate Herschel Walker claimed that he supported abortion bans with zero exceptions, even for rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger (despite allegations published by the Daily Beast that he paid for his mistress to have an abortion). Arizona senate candidate Blake Masters claimed on his campaign website that he believed the Supreme Court should have gone further and overturned Griswold v. Connecticut (a 1965 ruling that recognized a constitutional right to contraception). Ohio senate candidate J. D. Vance said “two wrongs don’t make a right” in response to whether he believed that abortion bans should include exceptions for rape and incest. 

Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake claimed in an interview with KTAR-FM, a local news station, that she believed abortion was the “ultimate sin” and supported banning both surgical and medication abortion. The idea that abortion was some sort of winning issue for the right wasn’t just believed by conservatives, it was mainstream consensus before Dobbs. In February 2022, FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on opinion poll analysis, released an opinion piece titled “Why Democrats Keep Losing Culture Wars” which named both critical race theory and—you guessed it—abortion as issues that caused Youngkin’s victory in 2021.

This strategy did not pay off in the end. In the House, the Republicans gained only nine seats. In the Senate Republicans lost several key races in states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and nearly lost Ohio–a state which has been shifting from a swing state to a solid red state over the last 7 years. The Democrats even had a net gain of one Senate seat. This was the first midterm election since 1962 which resulted in a net gain for Democrats in the senate during a Democratic presidency (the difference is in 1962, Kennedy had an approval rating of 63%, while in 2022 Biden had an approval rating of 41%). 

Katie Hobbs defeated Kari Lake in the Arizona gubernatorial election despite being relatively unknown and largely absent on the campaign trail. In the Wisconsin senate race, Democrat Mandela Barnes nearly toppled an incumbent despite holding unpopular views on crime, such as eliminating cash bail. Even Alaska went blue that year, with former governor Sarah Palin, who had been a high-profile figure in national politics for decades, losing the Congressional election to Mary Peltola who was relatively unknown at the time. 

All of this during an election season in which it was widely predicted that there would be a “red wave”. Given how poorly the economy was doing with inflation skyrocketing, Biden’s low approval ratings and the fact that the incumbent president’s party usually performs poorly during midterm elections (FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast predicted Republicans had a 59% chance of taking the Senate). 

How much of this can be attributed to the issue of abortion? According to CNN’s national exit polls, 27% of voters said that abortion was the most important issue to them, and those voters overwhelmingly voted blue. Looking at the results of 2022, it is clear how unpopular the GOP’s position on abortion is, not just in swing states, but in a lot of red states. In referendums in Kansas and Kentucky, voters chose to keep their states constitutional right to abortion; Kansas overwhelmingly so. In Montana, voters shot down an anti-abortion “born-alive” referendum which would allow criminal penalties for unless they take “all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to preserve the life” of an infant born alive, including after an attempted abortion. And in August of this year, Ohio’s Issue 1 referendum, which would raise the threshold to pass a state constitutional amendment by referendum from a 50% majority to a 60% majority, was defeated by a decisive majority because it would make it harder to pass an amendment to protect abortion rights. So, the idea that voters would back a 15-week abortion ban as a “consensus” in a state that Biden won by 10 points in 2020 is laughably absurd. 

And all of this matters because Youngkin is considering a possible presidential run in 2024, which Youngkin claims is contingent on Virginia Republicans doing well in 2023. Youngkin became a darling among right-wing media outlets like the Daily Wire after he managed to flip Virginia in 2021, with a platform built around opposing “wokeness in education”, centering issues like critical race theory, transgender students and mask mandates, reinforcing the right’s perception that they can win in key swing states on a platform of “anti-wokeness”. It is likely that Biden’s lagging approval ratings played a much bigger role in Youngkin’s victory in 2021, with the economy doing poorly, inflation rising, as well as the election being only a few months after the pull-out of Afghanistan. Another factor that helped was Youngkin distancing himself from former President Donald Trump, who is unpopular in Virginia. Given his status among conservatives, it was easy to see why they wanted him to announce his candidacy in 2024, especially as Ron DeSantis, another right-wing culture warrior who has distanced himself from Trump, began lagging in the polls.

It’s not just Glenn Youngkin, either. The GOP as a whole seems insistent on making abortion a key issue in 2024, which will be the first election held after Dobbs and with most of the Republican candidates supporting bans on abortion to some degree or another. Former Vice President Mike Pence stated that he would push for a federal ban on abortion as well as a federal ban on mifepristone (a medication that induces an abortion). Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban on the same day it was authorized by the Florida state legislature. And while Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the primaries, has attempted to portray himself as a moderate on the issue, opposing restrictions at the federal level and denouncing DeSantis’ six-week ban, it was his Supreme Court appointments that made the Dobbs decision possible, a fact which he has bragged about multiple times throughout the election season, posting on Truth Social “Without me there would be no 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 15 weeks, or whatever is finally agreed to”. This is one of the main reasons why my prediction for the 2024 election is that Biden (or whoever the Democratic nominee) will win the election if abortion becomes the main issue of the election, which is likely. In any case, with rulings like Dobbs and issues like abortion in the forefront of voter’s minds, it is clear that Republicans are going to have a rough time winning over voters in the future.

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