How good did 2022 look for Republicans? Very, and you can read why in my previous post here. You can also go back and read just about any article before the historic landmark Supreme Court ruling on abortion. You won't find any reason for optimism among politicos or Democrats themselves.
Then the Supreme Court ruling leaked, and ultimately was delivered, giving Democrats the lifeline they desperately needed. For those of you who ask (and I get this question a lot) yes, the election would have been completely different without the ruling, and Republicans would have had a much better year for sure. So let's take a look at how Democrats survived the Red Wave by breaking it down into 5 parts, the Lifeline, the Leap, the Lie, the Lump, and finally, the Language.
Abortion was an issue that was on no one's mind heading into 2022. It didn't appear in the top 3 issues, let alone the top 10, in any survey or poll.
"Three issues will crush Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections. In a recent Ipsos survey, respondents listed the economy, health and crime as the country’s most urgent problems. Bad news for Democrats: Republicans win on all three, hands down." - The Hill 12-31-21
Below the economy, health, and crime, were a lot of other issues, with the parties basically splitting those. Once the ruling hit, Democrats went all in on an issue that wasn't even on voters minds before that, abortion, spending over $124 million from that point forward on abortion ads, more than 20 times the amount they spent on it during the 2018 cycle.
That's right, Democrats gave voters over 124 million reasons to care about the issue of abortion, and voters cared. it quickly became the second most important issues to voters, just behind the economy. They were incredibly successful at changing the narrative with voters.
Abortion truly was the lifeline Democrats were desperate to find in 2022. We'll never know what Democrats would have spent that $124 million on had the Supreme Court ruling not happened.
Immediately after the SCOTUS ruling, Republicans went right to work in foolishly proposing a nationwide 15 week ban on abortion while Democrats tried to do the opposite and vote to codify abortion into Federal law. Both were ceremonial at best and neither one had an actual shot of advancing or passing.
Quick Sidebar: Folks, this is how your Federal government works, they propose a bunch of bills and waste time voting on things they down right know have zero shot at passing. But I suppose that is a gripe for another day.....
Despite not having a shot to pass whatsoever, Democrats wanted voters to take a leap and believe that Republicans would be able to pass a nationwide abortion ban. This was a key part of their messaging in battleground states.
"The Democratic Senate campaign arm is marking 100 days since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade by taking out full page ads in newspapers across ten Senate battleground states. It's the latest push by Democratic campaign officials focused on abortion rights, which is still a top issue for voters heading into the 2022 midterms, now less than 40 days away.......The full-page ads read, "If Republicans Take The Senate, They'll Ban Abortion Everywhere. Don't Let Them." with the DSCC webpage." - CBS News 9-30-22
While not an outright lie, this was definitely a HUGE leap, and I mean huge. Do you know what Republicans would actually need in order to pass a nationwide abortion ban? They'd need control of the House, Senate, and a President willing to sign the bill.
"It’s not clear how politically feasible a nationwide ban is.......the party would need to consolidate power in Congress and the White House to actually make it law." - VOX 6-25-22
And yet they'd need more, much like Democrats now. They'd also need a supermajority somewhere to end a filibuster and get such a bill to the President who was willing to sign it. If Democrats can't get protections passed now, how the heck are Republicans supposed to be able to get a ban passed?
"Despite controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, there’s little more Democrats can do via executive action or legislation, legal experts say, after the high court wiped out the constitutional right to abortion in a historic ruling. Republicans in the Senate can easily filibuster any bill to replace the rights once secured by Roe, while Biden lacks the power to unilaterally ensure abortion is available nationwide." - Bloomberg 6-24-22
Do you know when the last time the Republican Party had a super majority? Basically a full century ago, from 1921-1923. So as you can see, it's pretty darn tough to pull off and frankly, incredibly unlikely. In other words, it takes on heck of a leap to buy the idea that we'd ever see a Federal abortion ban.
Never forget that abortion is what we call a "wedge issue." This means it is an issue that drives a wedge in the middle of voters. This is unlike the "kitchen table issues" such as wanting a better economy, better education, and crime to go down, that all voters want, but simply disagree on how to accomplish them.
With abortion, there is a wedge between voters and only two sides, pro life or pro choice. While you can change voters minds on how to fix the economy or improve education, you're incredibly unlikely to convince a pro choice voter to suddenly become pro life. Wedge issues are often tools that political parties use in order to distract voters from other issues, and that is exactly what Democrats did here.
In order to distract voters from the economy and inflation, they worked to convince voters that politicians had the power to ban abortion in swing states....where they could Not.
First of all, the term, time, and circumstances over abortion itself are completely debatable among voters. You can read my previous article on why I believe voters agree, more than disagree on the issue itself here. But basically, less than 20% of voters want 100% open under any circumstances abortion. In fact, more voters believe abortion should be IL-legal after 15 weeks than legal according to a Fox news poll in April of 2022. That number only increases when we ask voters how they feel about abortion being banned after 24 weeks.
With that in context, here are the abortion facts.
There is not one single state in the country that has a complete and total ban on abortion. ZERO. Of the 13 states that have "banned" abortion, all of them include various exceptions such as the life or health of the mother, rape, or incest. So those 13 states side with the nearly 2/3 of voters who feel there should be certain exceptions.
In one state, Georgia, in addition to allowing for the exceptions above, abortion is legal up to 6 weeks.
In two more states, Arizona and Florida, in addition to allowing for exceptions, abortion is legal up to 15 weeks.
In the other 35 states, abortion is allowed completely up to 24 weeks all the way up to the 6 states who have zero restrictions on abortion.
In 25 of those states.....legislators are next to POWERLESS to change abortion laws, because abortion has already been addressed!
Despite this, Democrats ran abortion ad after abortion ad attacking Republican candidates and lying both about what they could actually do, and also what their position actually was. For example in Nevada, abortion law is codified into law, and can only be changed by voters themselves, or as the Nevada Independent put it the 1990 referendum means that only a direct majority vote from the people could overturn that protection. Nevada’s lawmakers and governor are PROHIBITED from directly restricting abortion access earlier than 24 weeks into pregnancy."
Democrat ads were fact checked and proven to be false and misleading time after time. Democrats hounded the airwaves telling voters that Republicans supported legislation that well, they simply did NOT.
"Some ads try to make it sound like Republicans who support exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother are opposed to these exceptions. Other ads try to make it sound like Republicans who have opposed the idea of a federal abortion ban are supportive of a federal ban." - CNN 10-17-22
That same CNN article highlighted four target Congressional campaigns where Democrats lied about the positions that Republicans held. As part of a $33 million ad buy in Nevada, Democrats ran ads lying about Adam Laxalt's position on a Federal abortion ban, one he said repeatedly he would not support. In Georgia, Politifact noted two separate Stacy Abrams ads about Brian Kemp's abortion position were "false and six others were only "half truths." In the Pennsylvania Senate race, ole Dr. Oz was accused of being pro choice in the primary, but then painted as wanting to ban abortion in the general. I could go on...
The reality is Democrats lied about Republican positions on abortion, lied about the power Republicans had on the issue of abortion, and lied about the roles State and Federal candidates had in regard to abortion.
There was simply never a chance abortion would be banned on the Federal level and no state was willing, or able to, ban abortion completely without exceptions.
So if abortion isn't completely outlawed, and every single state in the country has some kind of exception or protection, then what did Democrats have here to latch onto? Well, they decided to lump the idea of banning abortion together with regulating, funding, and timing.
The Center for Reproductive Rights claims abortion rights are at stake in Pennsylvania "without legal protection" but admits "Abortion will likely remain accessible in Pennsylvania.
Let's talk about that "legal protection" line.......what exactly does that mean? Well....
A mandatory twenty-four-hour waiting period
limits public funding for, and private insurance coverage of, abortion
Pennsylvania law generally requires that a parent, legal guardian, or judge consent to a minor’s abortion
In Nevada, where as I pointed out earlier "Nevada’s lawmakers and governor are PROHIBITED from directly restricting abortion access earlier than 24 weeks into pregnancy" Democrats decided to lump all kinds of other issues into the abortion argument and sell them as a whole.
However, Orentlicher (A Democrat legislator and "legal expert") said lawmakers and the governor could change provisions outside of the scope of what was put in place by the 1990 referendum." - The Nevada Impendent 11-5-22
According to Orentlicher:
"state lawmakers could (possibly, might, maybe) send bills to the governor that change requirements around mandatory waiting periods."
"A governor could (possibly, might, maybe) shape regulations by deciding who decides, in theory, to implement processes such as mandatory waiting periods or mandatory ultrasounds, or change hospital admitting standards."
"Finally, the governor, who directs state funding priorities, could (possibly, might, maybe) help decide whether to put money toward reproductive services in the state budget....and....propose cutting or redirecting that funding, but the Legislature would still need to approve it as part of the normal budgeting process."
"A governor could (possibly, might, maybe) also include crisis pregnancy centers as part of the funding allocated to family planning services., but the Legislature would need to approve that bill through the normal budgeting process."
See what they did there?
In Nevada and Pennsylvania Democrats are telling voters that an abortion ban is the same thing as funding abortions with taxpayer money, putting in place a waiting period for a non emergency medical procedure, having a doctor review the risks of that medical procedure with you, or heaven forbid, involving parents in their underage children's decisions? None of those three things ban abortion.
So now that we know Democrats were lumping issues together, how did they sell it? This frankly, is where Democrats did the best job and where Republicans absolutely floundered. Democrats sold the abortion argument as a "Freedom Issue."
“Our strategy is to tirelessly work with people who deeply care about this issue, who understand that abortion is a freedom issue,” she told “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski. “It is an economic issue, it is a health issue......” - Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson
You might notice here that saying abortion is a "freedom issue" wasn't far enough for Planned Parenthood. She also lumped in the economy and health all in the same statement. This is a narrative pro choice groups everywhere ran with, like Emily's List, where they "emphasized that women’s fundamental freedoms are at stake."
“Whether we’re talking about reproductive freedom, economic freedom, the freedom to live in a clean environment for generations to come, our fundamental freedoms are on the ballot this November,” she added. “We do not need politicians or elected officials in our doctors’ offices, we have to trust that women and their doctors are going to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.” - Laphonza Butler, Emily's List
Freedom. Liberties. Rights.
Keeping decisions between a person, their family, and their doctor.
These are all things that Republicans say they are for and the constitution was founded on. This is Republican language, terms, and ideals that Democrats successfully attached to the issue of...abortion?
Where exactly was the pushback from Republicans? There didn't seem to be any. Republicans seemed more concerned about reminding voters about issues they were already well aware of. I mean voters already didn't like Biden, they knew inflation was a problem, and they weren't thrilled about the economy. Did they really need to be reminded?
Meanwhile, the assault continued and Republicans were constantly under attack not so much on abortion as they were individual rights and freedoms. Every new ad campaign that came out was a motivator and every Democrat event a rallying cry painting a fairly singular narrative.
“This is the first generation of folks entering their reproductive lives with a major, fundamental right taken away from them ….” - NARAL president Mini Timmaraju
Did you catch that? That term "right" was at the center of the Democrat strategy and the language they used was brilliant. Turns out a lot of those voters weren't nearly as fired up about abortion restrictions as they were the thought that "a fundamental right" would be "taken away."
THE LAST WORD.
So, Democrats were given a lifeline, lied about what Republicans could actually do, lumped a bunch of issues into a singular rallying cry, and attached Republican language to that lifeline for a successful 2022 midterm.
In the end the strategy was almost too simple.
Democrats took a Republican ideal and attached it to a Democrat issue.
Well played. Well played.