The GOP has a Trump problem on abortion

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Initial reports were vague, as might be expected given the news: a child had become pregnant as a result of rape. Her doctor worried about the legality of abortion in Ohio given laws that went into effect with the tipping Roe v. calfturned to a doctor in nearby Indiana for help.

It was the sort of scenario that Americans commonly see as a justification for terminating a pregnancy, an unusual but not nonexistent horror that shouldn’t result in a 10-year-old (as is the case here) delivering a rapist’s child must term.

When the story surfaced, however, the most visible reaction on the right was neither sympathy nor appreciation that this was the kind of carve-out that was common in abortion discussions. Instead, history itself should be questioned. Employing rhetorical mechanisms perfected over seven years of downplaying bad political news for Donald Trump to indicate news reports were false — even lies — and the child was made up. Which of course she wasn’t.

In large part, this was simply because the case was such a blatant example of an incident where Americans consented to abortion. It was the kind of exception that makes it difficult to defend a total ban on abortion. The response was certainly also influenced by months of conservative assurances that nothing would change after that roe‘s cancellation. That was a line heard more than once on Fox News; it was certainly not true that nothing had changed for this child who had been sexually abused.

But this is probably a broader topic that should also be familiar from the early days of the Trump era. While most Americans have nuanced views on abortion, many in the Republican base do not. Republican primary voters, if not donors, take a harder line on abortion than most Americans, and it is these vocal, active Republicans who are likely to have the most success in driving the actions of Republican leaders. Just as the vocal, far-right base of support for Trump has shaped and continues to shape Republican politics.

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According to the decision of the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization The decision was reversed last month roe, the Pew Research Center asked Americans what they think of the decision. In general, Democrats opposed it and Republicans supported it.

But Pew dug a level deeper and found these views of Dobbs were much stronger among the most partisan flanks of each party. More than 6 in 10 Republicans, who self-identify as conservative, for example, supported the Dobbs decision, compared to just a fifth of moderate Republicans and a quarter of Americans overall.

When asked when abortion should be legal, conservative Republicans were also much more likely than moderate Republicans to say that it should always or usually be illegal.

This is not a small group. Republicans are more likely to identify as conservative than Democrats as liberal.

Data from the 2020 American National Election Study, conducted around this year’s election, shows that Republicans who identify as “extremely conservative” made up a larger percentage of the primary electorate — almost half — than those who identify as identified as “conservative” or slightly further to the left. Republicans who describe themselves as “extremely conservative” were more likely to hold absolutist positions on abortion — and ultraconservative Republicans who ran in the primary were more likely to say that abortion should be banned under all circumstances than ultraconservative Republicans who didn’t have chosen .

This is consistent with research (brought to my attention by Michigan State political scientist Matt Grossmann) conducted by Rachel Porter of the University of North Carolina. In 2021, Porter published a paper entitled Estimating the Ideology of Congressional Primary Electorates, in which she measured the ideological extremity of both parties’ primary voters. She found that Republican primary voters were more extreme than Democratic voters in 2012, 2014, and 2016.

You can see this comparison more clearly in this animation by comparing the two charts above.

More importantly, Porter writes, “ideological challengers are more likely to emerge in districts with more extreme primary voters” — meaning more polarized voters are voting for more polarized candidates. This is especially true where parliamentary elections are not held, she adds.

In other words, Republicans running in secure Republican seats are more likely to have more ideologically extreme primary voters than Democrats, and winners in those races are more likely to reflect ideological extremes themselves. If you want to win votes from these voters, a more dovish line may not be an effective approach.

Interesting research by University of California researcher David Broockman and Stanford University’s Neil Malhotra looked at another form of influence: campaign contributions. They found that while Republican donors are consistently more conservative than voters as a whole, this is not so true on social issues, including abortion.

In fact, donors are something more liberal on abortion as Republicans overall.

This is also a well-known pattern. It’s not the elites who take an uncompromising position on abortion, just as it wasn’t the elites who campaigned for Trump’s nomination in 2015 and 2016. Instead, it’s a vocal, activist base that has won an unexpected victory.

For Republicans nationally, the continued pressure from these activists creates political problems, as does Trump’s continued agitation. As November approaches, the party wants to reassure voters, particularly moderate women, that it will accommodate and support women who are now carrying babies. But activists and lawmakers in safe red districts are calling for national legislation to ban abortion or arguing that the abused 10-year-old from Ohio could eventually “understand the reason and ultimately the benefit of the child.”

Not a strong campaign message for a national electorate where only 1 in 10 people think abortion should always be illegal. But a good one for Republican primary voters in safe red counties.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/07/15/gop-has-trump-problem-abortion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_politics The GOP has a Trump problem on abortion

James Brien

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