Senate Republicans discard their principles and rally religious,anti-abortion voters to re-elect them.
In Republicans’ rush to appoint a new justice to the Supreme Court, the first casualty was their prior commitment to honor the will of the people. Both Senator Mitch McConnell (KY), who is the majority leader in charge of the Senate calendar, and Lindsey Graham (SC), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which handles Supreme Court nominees, embraced hypocrisy. The two old pros stopped the Senate from even holding a hearing on President Obama’s court appointee, Garland Merrick, when the nomination was eight months before a presidential election.
In effect, McConnell and Graham undermined whatever trust citizens had that Congress will govern fairly and honorably. That was their first blow to a stable, democratic republic. The second blow will be landed if the Trump nominee sits on the Supreme Court. Why? Because our nation will move one more step away from being a nation of rational, secular laws, toward a regime ruled by the constraints of religious beliefs.
The Republicans’ motivation may not be so much an adherence to a moral doctrine as a personal interest in maintaining political power. They’ve watched how Donald Trump has obtained and used power. Now, to be sure, Trump isn’t a religious person. Then again, neither was Elmer Gantry. But they both used the force of organized religion to get what they wanted. In Trump’s case it was winning votes and elections. Particularly as he promised to end abortions.
A core of religious voters, consolidated within the evangelical movement and the Catholic Church, believes that women are sinners if they have an abortion. God will punish them. But the persuasive force of religion is not enough to actually stop women from controlling their own bodies. These churchgoers need the power of government to stop doctors from safely conducting abortions.
If the religious right can impose laws that stop or constrain that activity, many women will go to non-professional abortionists, who operate in garages or basements. As was often the case in the 1950s, many will also wind up in an emergency room for botched abortions. There are politicians who champion that era as the best time for all Americans. That is a reactionary belief. It turns the clock way back, unlike conservatives who just don’t want it to go forward.
Republicans lead the push to place an anti-abortioniston the Supreme Court
Let’s examine Graham and McConnell’s re-election races.
Graham easily won his last three Senate races by double-digit margins. He had originally been considered a moderate conservative by both Democrats and Republicans. Initially, he called Donald Trump a “race-baiting xenophobic bigot,” but now refers him to as “my new best friend.” That may because Trump won South Carolina by 14% over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Currently, Trump leads Joe Biden by 6% among likely voters in the state. Meanwhile, Graham is statistically tied with his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison in the latest polls. Just 3% of voters say they are unsure who they’re going to vote for on Nov. 3. Graham is borrowing scare tactics from Trump to either pull out more of his base or pull that thin slice of undecideds over to him.
Using Trumpian hyperbole, Graham calls Harrison a radical, when the Democrat is in fact a moderate. Fanning the flames of fear, Graham said that if the Democratic Party controls Congress and the Presidency, “They’ll pack the Supreme Court.” However, with 15 of the last 19 justices having been appointed by Republicans, we actually have a court that’s been packed with Republican appointees.
Both Graham and Trump need to pull out their strongest base of supporters: the white evangelicals. Trump received 82% of this group’s vote in 2016, and that same percentage still support him today. Evangelicals make up 35% of South Carolina’s population. They are the most anti-abortion of all major religious faiths. Sixty-three percent believe that abortion should be illegal. Getting a committed jurist on the Supreme Court who holds that belief could only help Graham with those voters.
McConnell is not in as tight a race as Graham. A poll in the summer showed him ahead of his Democratic opponent, former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, by only a couple of percentage points. But the most recent poll this month shows him leading by 15 points. McConnell has hit McGrath with TV ads claiming that she supports abortion in the ninth month of pregnancy. This twists something McGrath did say: “I don’t think government should be involved in making a decision on a woman’s body.”
Those who demand anti-abortion laws often interpret a response like McGrath’s as supporting late term abortions. The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that only 1.2% of abortions in the U.S. were performed at or after 21 weeks of pregnancy. To counter McConnell’s accusation, McGrath made clear that she is “opposed to late term abortions (except when it comes to issues of the life of the mother).”
Ardent anti-abortion evangelicals make up 49% of Kentucky’s population. So McConnell’s ads may soon be presenting him as the person who confirmed enough reactionary justices to the Supreme Court to finally revoke if not practically stop access to abortions.
Mitt Romney (R-UT), who is at times a Trump critic and was called a moderate conservative, showed that he too wants to get back to the abortion prohibitions of the ’50s. Although he supported Roe v. Wade in 1994, he’s moved since his first presidential bid in 2007 to believing “we should overturn Roe v. Wade.” He once said he would be “delighted” to sign a bill as president that would outlaw abortion. Although Utah has relatively few evangelicals, 62% of Utah’sresidents are Mormons. They are even more anti-abortion than evangelicals, with 70% of Mormons opposed to abortion. Romeny’s term is not up this November, but supporting Trump’s nominee will certainly help him win re-election.
Many Republican Senators are from states with enough evangelicals to swing almost any statewide election — if they come out to vote. According to the Cook Political Report, two Senate Republicans are in toss up elections in states with high percentages of evangelicals: Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa (28%) and Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina (35%). Both of them joined Mitchell and Graham in chucking their previous statements to oppose appointing a new justice in a presidential election year. Now they want the new Supreme Court vacancy filled before the Nov. 3 election. They are counting votes and they know whose votes to get out in their state.
Two senators in particular, whom The Hill describes as “two rising GOP stars with White House aspirations” are competing to be the leading executioner of the Roe v. Wade decision. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wants explicit evidence from a nominee that Roe v. Wade was just plain wrong. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) just wants to get rid of the decision. Both come from states with a significant evangelical voter base. Thirty-six percent of Missouri residents are evangelicals. In Arkansas, the percentage is 46%. Cotton is seen as a solid winner for his re-election, and Hawley is not up this fall. But if they do aspire to the White House, Trump showed them the power the white evangelicals have to help them capture the Republican Party’s nomination.
An unintended consequence may unfold for the Republican Senate
As the Republicans rush to take the politically correct religious position on abortion, they might just lose control of the Senate. It’s not a stretch to see how likely that is, when you look at how the numbers add up.
First, Trump, may not be much help to Senators in retaining their seats. Although he’s repeatedly accused the media and the Democrats of being the enemy of America, many voters may consider him to be. His job approval rating at this point in his presidency is lower than that of all of his recent predecessors except George H.W. Bush. And hisdisapproval rating is not statistically different from Bush’s, being about 59%. Bush lost his re-election by a margin of 5.6 points to Bill Clinton. Joe Biden has held a steady 6-point lead over Trump in polling of likely voters since February.
A major hurdle that the Republicans face is that not a heck of a lot of folks are undecided on who to vote for. At this point in the election cycle, ususally around 15% of the population still has not decided how to vote. This year, it’s less than half that: about 6%.
The push by Republican Senators to seat an anti-abortion judge could swing the sliver of still-undecided women and men over to Biden’s camp. Protecting the right to have an abortion has been supported by the majority of Americans for over two decades.
Reviewing its polling data, the Gallup Organization found that at no time since 1993 has less than 50% of the populace supported abortion as “legal with some restrictions.” Currently, the figure stands at 50%. Over that same time period, support for abortion as “legal in all circumstances” has ranged between 21% and 33%. Today, the number is 29%. Meanwhile, those who support making abortion “illegal in any circumstance” has floated between 12% and 22%. It currently stands at only 20%.
Senate Republicans are demanding that the next Supreme Court justice side with the smallest slice of the populace on the abortion issue. Will the freedoms of all Americans be defined by a religious minority?
Under our democracy, every religion is protected to practice freely. But that does not give churches the right to define how others must behave. Despite this, Republican Senators making a play for evangelical, Mormon, and conservative Catholic votes cannot afford to upset those faithful few. If Republican Senators wish to keep their jobs, they need Fox News watchers to see them trying to get Trump’s nominee, federal judge Amy Coney Barrett, to commit to overturning Roe v. Wade.
However, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), has stated that any justice who says “I believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned,” should be disqualified. She argues that “It’s not just on abortion. It’s on anything that could be pending before the court like that.” Could that simple civics argument sway a couple of Republicans that government and religion should not be commingled on the Supreme Court?
There is some irony that the Democratic Party — the party of Hope, the party of easy-going liberals — may have nothing to play but the “fear” card. You know, the one that Trump slams on the podium in every speech he gives.
But the fear is real this time, if the Republican Party succeeds in establishing the most reactionary Supreme Court since the Dred Scott decision of 1857. That cruel ruling basically said to a freed slave in the North, you are still someone’s property and you are still a slave if you go back to the South. It precipitated the conditions that led to Abraham Lincoln winning the Presidency. Those 19th-century Supreme Court judges could be considered “constitutionalist,” because the Constitution did not recognize slaves as citizens with rights. Just as it does not explicitly recognize women having the right to access abortion. Barrett is already being hailed as a “constitutionalist” jurist.
This time, it will be a Supreme Court telling all women that they have to conform to the morals of a religion they may not belong to. The state will now enforce those religious views on everyone.
It will also be a Supreme Court that makes working families lose their newly acquired health coverage. Trump’s new appointee will likely vote to pull the plug on the coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act. Now, millions could once again face financial ruin paying medical bills. Even though Trump promised more than three years ago to provide a new health plan that would be much better, he has provided nothing.
These are fearful living conditions to return to. The Democrats will certainly highlight them to the voters.
There are still many moving parts as Election Day approaches. No one really knows what will determine the outcome. What is certain is that the Republican Party, with its Freedom Caucus in the lead, has declared that our highest court in the land must not allow women the freedom to decide how they should live.
And, that’s how you Make America Great Again?
Nick Licata is author of Becoming A Citizen Activist, and
has served 5 terms on the Seattle City Council, named progressive municipal official of the year by The Nation, and is founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of 1,000 progressive municipal officials.
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