How John Roberts Saved the GOP (and Started Their Civil War)

Kudos to Chief Justice John Roberts for getting the three Trump-nominated pro-life judges to leave the abortion pill alone for now and save the GOP from another roe– like a disaster.

Eighty percent of voters don’t like that Dobbs Decision that ended constitutional abortion rights, a number establishing a confrontation within the GOP between electoral realists and pro-life activists that is baffling the party’s presidential nominees.

When the 7-2 SCOTUS decision was made — protecting access and availability in states where it’s legal to take the two-dose pill, which terminates pregnancy by up to 10 weeks — many Republican lawmakers breathed a sigh of relief. Any other decision would have further inflamed an electorate still angry at the loss roe.

It’s good news that Roberts has managed to regain some control over the court’s far-right faction, sidelining Clarence Thomas and an irate Samuel Alito who wrote the Dobbs Decision that wiped out nearly half a century of legal protections for abortion. Roberts was able to shut down the extremists willing to turn the FDA — and the entire drug approval process — on its head to take the abortion pill off the market.

Crisis averted, but the damage done by the Roberts Court cannot easily be undone.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has become the only woman in the GOP field to have submitted her bid, spoke Tuesday at the Virginia headquarters of the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America office. Haley said the next president needs to find a “national consensus” on the issue and that she believes there is a federal role on abortion, but hasn’t figured out what that might be.

Kellyanne Conway, back in her pre-Trump role as GOP scientist, welcomed Republican donors at a retreat in Nashville earlier this month with a poll showing 80 percent of voters don’t like it Dobbs decision that was overturned roe. Meanwhile, the party’s activist base is calling for a federal ban on abortion and pushing for more restrictive state-level laws.

Mifepristone, the first drug in a medical abortion, is prepared for a patient April 20, 2023 at the Alamo Women’s Clinic in Carbondale, Illinois.

Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

The solution? Don’t talk about it and emphasize states’ rights when you’re under pressure, and then move on to other cultural issues like parental rights, crime, and awakening, in whatever order works best.

In other words, there is no plan.

A party which, over several decades, has held multiple elections with extraordinary unanimity on abortion is now struggling to find consensus. “It’s very easy to be united against something,” says Christine Matthews, a pro-election Republican pollster. Finding an agreement is harder, but after listening to Haley outline her pro-life position, Matthews’ insight was that a 15-week abortion ban could be the common ground on which both sides could settle.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres identifies the 15-week ban as a “national sweet spot” for Republicans. (Haley signed a 20-week ban while she was governor.)

“It’s difficult for me to give advice because I think it should be consistent and keep the government out of it,” Matthews told The Daily Beast. “The Republican base wants to limit abortion, and they (the candidates) don’t want anyone outmaneuvering them to the right. But there should be no national regulation.”

Conway’s poll stunned GOP participants at the donor retreat, but those numbers won’t sway anyone in states where Republicans have supermajorities. “They don’t respond because they get elected in the primary,” Matthews says, and the activists are running the primary. In several states where abortion is on the rise, notably Ohio, Republican lawmakers are changing the threshold to make it harder for voters who are collecting signatures to vote in the 2024 election to secure abortion rights.

“This is a horror movie with many sequels,” says Jim Kessler of Third Way, a centrist Democratic group. “In 2024 we will have the first presidential election where the position of president could fundamentally change a woman’s life. We see tremors out there,” the aftershocks of the political earthquake caused by the coup roe last year. The 2020 midterms were the best for Democrats since FDR; Voters in Kansas, a red state, overwhelmingly secured abortion rights last year; and last month Wisconsin voters in record numbers backed a Supreme State judge who pledged to overturn an 1849 abortion ban.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a town hall meeting in Bedford, New Hampshire on April 26, 2023.

Brian Snyder/Reuters

One in five women will have an abortion in their lifetime, and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, most women of childbearing age (58 percent) know someone who has had an abortion, with 68 percent of these women knowing more than one person.

“This is an issue Republicans can’t hide on,” Kessler said. “They try to bring cultural issues to the fore, especially with trans people. What they’re really trying to do is distract from abortion.”

A party which, over several decades, has held multiple elections with extraordinary unanimity on abortion is now struggling to find consensus.

The race to the right isn’t just about legalizing abortion, it’s about criminalizing abortion. Turning it from a constitutional right to a crime is a non-starter at a general election in a country where supermajorities want abortion to be legal (with common sense caveats) and 80 percent are dissatisfied with the Supreme Court’s decision roe.

“Leaving it to states is the best they can do,” Kessler says, and that’s the position Trump has staked.

Anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony has called Trump’s view an “unmoral position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate.” They are calling for a 15-week national ban.

The ex-president remained unresponsive to the group that was once his ally, and he must fret that the activists he so delighted by appointing three pro-life justices to the Supreme Court are unhappy and actually pushing for more than anyone with national ambitions can comfortably promise.

So, as only Trump can do, he changed the subject and said he could boycott the Republican debates, two of which are already planned — one in August in Milwaukee and a second in September at the Reagan Library in California.

“I see everyone talking about the Republican debates, but no one got my approval or the approval of the Trump campaign before announcing it,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “If you lead by seemingly insurmountable numbers and have hostile networks of angry, TRUMP & MAGA-hating anchors asking the ‘questions,’ why allow yourself to be slandered and abused?”

He’s right, and for someone who regularly threatened to roll back debate plans in 2016 and 2020, we’ve seen this film before.

The judgment of the Supreme Court regarding roe has vaulted an issue from the theoretical to the immediate and is threatening to turn the primary race into a contest about abortion restrictions “except for Trump,” “you can top that,” says Kessler, who insists, at least for his Staking stance On an issue Republicans can’t win on, Trump is “smarter than them.”

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