May 17, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

An Abortion Backlash Is Brewing

Women powered 2018. They may do it again next year.

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Editor’s note

The Editorial Board seeks to inform and empower people by offering daily insight into national affairs written in plain English. That’s what I’m committed to doing, and I’ll remain committed to doing that, but you gotta know—this is work. I need some help.

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The conservative commentariat loves it when Hillary Clinton speaks publicly.

Yes, I know. They sound like they want to her to shut up already. Don’t believe it. Any day macho mooks get to bash Hillary Clinton is a good day for them. That goes double when she’s telling the truth, which is pretty much every time she speaks publicly.

During a national tour with her husband, Clinton told a Los Angeles audience that she’s been consulting with Democratic candidates. She warned them of trials ahead. You can run a perfect campaign, she said, and “still have the election stolen from you.”

Clinton’s campaign was imperfect, but her point remains valid. It should also be deeply troubling. Not only does the future Democratic nominee face an Electoral College favoring the president—indeed, all GOP candidates—but he or she faces, as Clinton did, Russia’s “sweeping and systemic” efforts to profane our sovereignty.

“There is no effort to try to have an organized national response to that,” the former secretary of state said on May 6. “Social media is still an incredible channel to communicate information that is untrue and defamatory about someone else.”

The word putting the conservative commentariat in a tizzy was “stolen.” Even The Bulwark, a reliably sober outlet, ran this terrible headline: “If Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Shut Up She’ll Re-Elect Trump.” Whenever Clinton speaks publicly, wrote A.B. Stoddard, “it’s a nightmare for everyone but President Trump. For him, it’s manna.”

My point isn’t to knock down Stoddard. (He can do that without my help.) My point today is to suggest that a majority of Americans agrees with Hillary Clinton.

Most voters chose her, not the president. Blame her. Blame the Electoral College. Blame Russia. Blame anyone. Fact is, she won the most votes, and yet here we are. That’s a hard and rather inconvenient truth for Republicans, even if they dislike Trump. Better to blame the victim, in this case Clinton, than discuss why a republic predicated on majority rule failed to live up to that democratic standard in 2016.

I don’t have proof. I’m not aware of polling that shows if people believe the election was stolen. (If you know of some, let me know.) There may never be evidence strong enough to settle that. But I tend to think Trump’s approval rating is suggestive. The highest he’s ever been in 47.8 percent (per FiveThirtyEight). Within a few days of his inauguration, that collapsed, never to recover. He ran as a racist and a misogynist. He governs as the president of Republicans. (He can’t even take his own country’s side in a fight.) The electorate, not the Electoral College, was right about Donald Trump.

More suggestive of my thesis might be last year’s midterms. A greater number of women ran and won office than any time in decades. They expanded the Democratic Party, moving it to the right and to the left, making it more representative of the country as a whole, and by doing so, exposing the GOP’s diminishing share of the electorate. Yes, these new Democrats ran on health care, but health care is multi-dimensional. Health care, much to the surprise of some men, includes abortion.

You see where I’m going.

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Trump is president despite fewer votes and bragging about how he could grab women by the pussy he’s so untouchable. His election sparked a backlash manifesting in a massive women’s march the same month he took office as well as a Democratic takeover of the House greater than any since the 1970s. That was after the president nominated a judge accused of sexual assault to the country’s highest court, whose job is bringing a decades’ long assault on abortion rights to a calculated conclusion.

And now the president is seen as the leading exponent of a coordinated state-based effort—in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and others—to neutralize Roe, even though a majority believes the federal government has no place in regulating a woman’s body. Call me crazy, but put these together and you have the makings of a repeat backlash. 2016 was stolen and somebody in 2020 is going to pay for it.

I wouldn’t expect Cory Booker or any Democrat to stump on a theme of a stolen elections. But you don’t need to do that when, as Booker is, you’re vowing to codify Roe into federal law. That’s saying without saying that women, even including Hillary Clinton, are getting a raw deal. That’s setting yourself up for riding a new wave.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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