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Did Lindsey Graham Just Inadvertently Energize the Democratic Base for the 2022 Midterms?

Ken Cedeno/Pool via AP

There is a growing fear among congressional Republicans that the issue of abortion has chipped away at their chances of having a red wave year. It goes beyond abortion, however, as Republican leadership has fallen asleep at the switch, especially those running the National Republican Senate Committee. As we approach Election Day's most expensive and critical weeks, it’s about hammering home get-out-the-vote efforts, taking the last shots at your opponents, and making closing arguments. What unduly complicates that effort is picking an abortion fight when it’s unnecessary. What was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) thinking about pushing a nationwide bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks? 

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It's not about the substance of the legislation—I’m on board with it. Most Republican voters would be as well—it’s based on initiatives that are based on consensus data. To go even further, fifty-five percent support heartbeat bills, which ban abortions after six weeks. The point of contention is not about being soft on pro-life issues—this is solely based on the timing and strategy. We all know abortion gets the Left riled up to no end. Why push a bill that only throws gasoline on the feminazi fire? Even Republican colleagues were taken aback by Graham’s bill, with leadership taking the tone that the South Carolina Republican had gone rogue (via Politico):

The South Carolina senator chose a uniquely tense moment to unveil his party’s first bill limiting abortion access since this summer’s watershed reversal of Roe v. Wade. It was designed as a nod to anti-abortion activists who have never felt more emboldened. Yet Graham’s bill also attempted to skate past a Republican Party that’s divided over whether Congress should even be legislating on abortion after the Supreme Court struck down a nationwide right to terminate pregnancies.

And some fellow Republicans said they were highly perplexed at Graham’s decision to introduce a new abortion ban — more conservative than his previous proposals — at a precarious moment for the party.

“I don’t think there’s an appetite for a national platform here. My state, today, is working on this. I’m not sure what he’s thinking here. But I don’t think there will be a rallying around that concept,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “I don’t think there’s much of an appetite to go that direction.”

[…]

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that questions about the bill should be directed to Graham and that most Republican senators “prefer this be handled at the state level.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested Graham had gone a bit rogue with his latest legislation: “That wasn’t a conference decision. It was an individual senator’s decision.”

“There’s obviously a split of opinion in terms of whether abortion law should be decided by the states … and those who want to set some sort of minimum standard,” Cornyn said of the 50-member Senate GOP conference. “I would keep an open mind on this but my preference would be for those decisions to be made on a state-by-state basis.”

Graham’s bill bans the procedure nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a priority of many prominent anti-abortion activists who have been demanding a far more aggressive response from the GOP. It includes exceptions for rape, incest and pregnancies that threaten maternal health.

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You cannot fight for bills that will protect the unborn if you don’t win—whether we like it or not, Graham’s 15-week ban proposal increases the odds of electoral defeat. Sure, abortion has risen in voter priority surveys because liberals have been galvanized since the Dobbs decision, and those voters are from areas already dominated by Democrats. Yet, the residual effects could be detrimental in crucial swing states, like Pennsylvania, which is the key to the GOP retaking the Senate in November. There’s a sense that Graham put the cart before the horse with this bill. These pieces of legislation are what you push after Election Day and when the new session of Congress begins in January, not now. 

We talk about how Democrats say the quiet part out loud on the stump, which has yielded some inadvertent in-kind contributions for Republicans. That game does cut both ways, and Graham cracker decided to toss one in for the Left. The wild card here is the looming rail strike and how that will impact the races. 

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