The Republicans paid the price to overthrow Roe. It might have been worth it.
But when we add parties to the mix, things get more complicated. Parties – and especially movements that support parties – have goals beyond simply maintaining the re-election of their members. They have a vision of what a better country looks like, and they look for opportunities to achieve it.
Reversal Roe vs. Wade has been a top priority of the Republican Party since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, if not before. Conservative organizations like Moral Majority, Focus on the Family and Federalist Society worked to ensure the reversal deer was central to the GOP mission. Abortion has featured prominently on party platforms and on the governing agenda of every Republican president for decades. Republicans have sought to put anti-abortion judges on the Supreme Court and other federal courts, and through a series of untimely deaths and unprecedented power moves by Mitch McConnell, the unlikely figure of Donald Trump has succeeded. to place enough to achieve the goal.
The idea that reversal deer fueling a backlash shouldn’t have been a surprise; polls had shown this to be an unpopular position for decades. Even many anti-abortion activists were simply advocating greater restrictions on abortion, not the outright bans that some states have enacted or are working towards.
Key studies in political science have described voters as behaving like a thermostat. That is, when politics moves sharply and noticeably in one direction, they react in the opposite direction, voting to restore some sort of balance or moderation. It’s part of what drives the usual pattern of midterm elections where the president’s party loses seats – the public reacts to recent changes the president and his party have passed and pushes back a bit by voting for the other side. .
2022 was different, however. Biden and congressional Democrats have been successful in securing significant policy changes over the past few years on a range of issues including climate change, health care, income support, college loans and more. But by far the most publicized and visceral change came from the conservative-dominated Supreme Court when it overturned 50-year-old precedent and erased a right Americans have lived with for decades.
People reacted to this by voting more Democratic, or at least less Republican, than they normally would have done midterm. No, it wasn’t the Republicans in Congress who overthrew deer, but voters don’t often distinguish between different branches or levels of government when assigning credit or blame, and voting in a midterm election is one of the few opportunities they have to register their dissent. Without deer in the books, the future of abortion access in states across the country was also a hot issue, giving voters another chance to weigh in and push back against a destabilizing policy shift.
You could see a similar thing from Democrats in 2010. By signing into law the Affordable Care Act, Obama and congressional Democrats were doing good on something that had been a party goal for decades. Lyndon Johnson had fought for universal health care and settled for Medicare. Clinton fought for a version of it and lost. Obama actually enshrined it in law. And his party paid the price, losing more than 60 seats during those midterms. According to one analysis, Democrats voting for the ACA suffered a bigger political hit than those voting against, and that may have been enough to cost Democrats their majority. But for those who had pushed the policy, that price might still be worth it.
Similarly, the civil rights movement was not particularly popular among the majority of Americans when Democrats pushed civil rights bills in the 1960s, but it was a commitment the party had made and wanted. see promulgated. Even as LBJ celebrated his passing, he predicted his party had lost the South for a generation. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts weren’t popular, but they were important to the Republican Party. Parties know that they have to be aware of public opinion and cannot constantly ignore it, but their fundamental aims are not necessarily popular, and sometimes they are willing to take risks and pay the price to implement them.
No doubt there were other significant causes of Republican underperformance in the 2022 election. The focus on Trump seemed to undermine support for his favorite candidates. And his influence has created a field of GOP undernames. Candidates pushing to weaken election laws — often Trump loyalists — also seemed to be paying the price.
But abortion was just a big issue in a way that it hadn’t been before. According to exit polls, some 27% said abortion was the main issue motivating their vote, ranking just behind inflation. Most years, abortion doesn’t even make the top five.
Republicans are understandably disappointed with the outcome of this year’s election. But one of the main reasons is that they have achieved a huge political victory, a victory they have been advocating for nearly half a century. And despite these self-imposed headwinds, Republicans still took the House, albeit narrowly. If that’s the cost, the GOP arguably got a good deal.