The blue wave cometh — or does it? Contra reports that a cerulean tsunami is bearing down on Congress, RealClearPolitics still projects that the GOP will win the Senate this November, and Tuesday’s dismal inflation numbers have only boosted Republican hopes. So…back to the red wave then? Or maybe the red and blue waves will combine into a purple wave, which, in conjunction with a chartreuse wave, will bury Politico‘s offices in a sea of multicolored futility?
Midterm election predictions are always a fool’s game, which is why pundits love them. Yet allow this much: the political climate right now is uncertain. And it’s into this tense atmosphere that Senator Lindsey Graham has chucked what some are saying could be a game-changer. Graham this week introduced a bill that would ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks. And while some Democrats are overjoyed, I can’t help but recall the words of a certain bug-eyed eminence not named Mitch McConnell: it’s a trap!
The conventional wisdom is yon: Republicans were walking away with the midterm elections up to and until the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. It was at this very moment that billions of strong-willed girlbosses looked up in alarm from their latest corporate earnings reports and bellowed, “To arms!” The threat of restricted abortion mobilized educated women voters behind Democrats, changing the dynamics of the 2022 midterms. It wasn’t just a blue wave overtaking a red one. It was also a granular clash of the issues, with inflation boosting Republicans while abortion helped Democrats.
So you can understand why Republicans were wary upon learning that Graham wanted to touch the abortion rail. Federalists like Rand Paul and John Cornyn prefer that the matter be left to the states. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, whose home state of West Virginia is legislating its own abortion ban, said of Graham, “I’m not sure what he’s thinking here.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell muttered, “With regard to his bill, you’ll have to ask him about it,” which is McConnell-speak for, “Graham’s office furniture will be on the Capitol lawn tomorrow.”
So why did Lindsey Graham go and do this? It’s a good question — and it may be that Graham is more politically savvy than he’s letting on.
First, consider the source. Graham today is reviled by the left, yet long ago in the mist-shrouded primordia of the pre-Trump era he was known as a moderate Republican. He backed immigration amnesty, climate change legislation, campaign finance reform; it could seem at times like his only right-wing impulse was to constantly hurl ordnance at the Middle East. Graham did all this while representing South Carolina, one of the most conservative states in the union. You don’t pull off that kind of balancing act if you’re a tin-eared politician.
Second, consider the numbers. Democrats have dressed up the abortion issue in exceptionally American terms, calling it a “constitutional right.” Yet against the rest of the civilized world, the United States with its Roe-enforced 24 weeks of legal abortion was a radical outlier. Many European countries ban the procedure before even Graham’s 15 weeks; France prohibits abortion on demand after 14 weeks and Portugal after 10. Sure enough, Americans are not so different from their European counterparts. Polls have consistently found that large majorities would mostly ban abortions in both the second and third trimesters.
One of the hilarities of the past three months has been watching national media try to gloss over this finding. (Politico recently wheezed that polling “shows support for some limits on abortion,” which is a curious way of saying people want it criminalized across two thirds of the pregnancy.) Recall that back in the summer, every Senate Democrat except for Joe Manchin voted for a bonkers bill that would have legalized abortion until the moment of birth. Yet somehow Democrats trying to turn America into Beijing on the Mississippi is seen as due course; only Republicans who try to bring the law in line with public opinion are painted as zealots.
Lindsey Graham surely understands this — which is why his bill may have a more subtle political purpose. Is Graham trying to take the abortion issue away from Democrats? Is he trying to short-circuit their maximalism, to expose them as the radicals they are, to establish Republicans as the real abortion mainstream? If he is, it’s admittedly a risky gambit, as voters could end up paying closer attention to the spirit of Graham’s bill (ban abortion!) than the substance (15 weeks). And certainly any sane Republican would rather be talking about egg prices than ectopic pregnancies.
Still, never underestimate the capacity of the left to overreach. Voters right now lean pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean this preference will survive a month and a half of “shout your abortion!” Graham has hooked the bait, and given that abortion is a far more distant issue than inflation to begin with, Republicans may have more room to consider his ban than they think. As for the rest of us, we’ll be seeking shelter as heavy-breathing politicos lasso colorful waves to nowhere.