Dec 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Some Republicans fear Roe win could backfire

Illustration of an elephant’s trunk holding a gavel.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Republicans are on the brink of achieving a decades-long conservative project — overturning abortion rights — but some strategists worry that the party isn’t ready for the political dangers of this monumental victory.

Why it matters: The GOP has the best political environment in a decade leading into the midterms — and the last thing top party operatives want is for the Democratic base to become energized if the Supreme Court narrows or overturns Roe v. Wade.

  • As one longtime GOP political operative put it to Axios, it's one “big flare-up” that could “derail what could be a 2010-level victory next year for the party and the movement."
  • "Republicans and operatives in the party, I don’t think they’re ready. They better get ready before this decision comes out," the operative said.

What they’re saying: Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who represents a district that includes suburbs of Charleston, acknowledged that overturning Roe would bring the issue front and center and urged Republicans to handle such an event cautiously.

  • “We’ve got to have compassion on both sides of the aisle and recognize at some point, this is an infant and this is life, and also on my side, recognize that we've got to be advocates for women who've been raped,” she told Axios.

The details: Despite the entrenched red state/blue state divide, overturning Roe could persuade suburban women who would have otherwise likely voted for Republicans to vote for Democrats, two operatives told Axios.

  • A Republican campaign strategist said such a ruling would be a messaging challenge for GOP candidates, and said they should calibrate their statements differently for general election voters than they would for primary voters.
  • “In primaries, the issue will be a talked about as a huge victory, and in general elections it will be about giving people a voice in their state’s abortion policies,” the strategist said.
  • States would be able to ban or severely restrict abortion access if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe, which seemed to be a real possibility during oral arguments yesterday. In that situation, operatives say, Republican-led states may want to tread lightly, to avoid a political backlash to especially stringent restrictions.

By the numbers: A November poll by Quinnipiac University found that 63% of Americans agree with the 1973 Roe decision, including 87% of Democrats and 65% of independents but just 37% of Republicans. 53% of Republicans disagreed with the ruling.

  • One Republican operative pointed to suburbs surrounding smaller cities like Charleston and Des Moines as places to watch if Roe falls.
  • Former Republican Rep. Tom Davis, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee, said there’s "no question that if this happens, it will be a front and center issue for voters.”
  • While he doesn’t believe Republicans would lose the House over the issue, Davis said “there’s no question that in higher-income districts, it could have an effect.”

But, but, but: History is on Republicans’ side, as the party in power tends to lose seats in Congress. That history, coupled with redistricting and a slew of Democratic retirements, means Democrats would need to defy the odds to keep the House.

  • Other operatives believe that pocketbook issues will continue to be the more salient issue.
  • “[Democrats] are desperate to find anything to talk about other than skyrocketing inflation and the President’s plummeting approval ratings, and think a couple Supreme Court cases will do the trick. But they won’t,” Kevin McLaughlin, former NRSC director, told Axios.
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