July 2, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Roe Is Doomed. Time for Hardball.

The Democrats must rally support for legalizing abortion. Message: Vote in November!

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US Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, said over the weekend that she would not support a US Supreme Court nominee who would reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion. That has given some people hope. It shouldn’t.

The Democrats have one way to stop the Senate from confirming President Donald Trump’s second high court nominee—by denying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a quorum. That would shut down the Senate. But the maneuver requires 51 Senators. In other words, every Democrat plus two rogue Republicans.

US Senator John McCain, of Arizona, is dying. That’s one possibility. Collins’ statement over the weekend raises the prospect to two. But again, unity is what matters here. Given that five Democratic Senators are running for reelection in states won by the president, unity may not be possible, or even desirable.

Collins isn’t serious. She’s looking for cover. During confirmation hearings, expert her or another Senator to ask the same question asked of every nominee for decades: Do you or do you not believe that Roe is settled law. Expect to hear the same answer we have heard from every high court nominee for decades: uh-huh.  

That ought to be enough for Collins. With her vote, the Republicans will confirm a jurist almost certainly as conservative as Justice Neil Gorsuch. With the balance of power shifting on the highest court in the land, that will be enough to doom Roe.

This puts the Democrats in a pickle. They can’t win this fight, but they can’t look like they’re rolling over. Making matters worse is the desire for payback. McConnell blocked Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016, making way for Gorsuch. Media allies are calling for blood. Here’s what MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said last week:

“I again say this, the base will attack the leadership for this if they allow it to happen. And they should. Because this is time for vengeance for what happened two years ago and if they don’t reap the vengeance right now with four and a half months to go to the election they will not look strong to their base and they will be under attack.”

This, Matthews said, is playing hardball.

Matthews is full of it.

Matthews can do the math like anyone else to see the numbers are not in the Democrats’ favor. Hardball is not a Hail Mary pass that might end up jeopardizing five seats in the Senate (or any serious chance of knocking off vulnerable Senate Republicans). Real hardball is accepting political reality and doing what needs to be done: using Roe’s demise to rally support for legalizing abortion nationally.

Remember a fundamental rule in politics. If you don’t have to do something, don’t do it, because doing something means making choices, and making choices is going to get you in trouble. Since 1973, the Democrats have gotten off scot-free. They turned Roe into something like a fetish, as if it were the only thing standing between state power and a woman’s ownership of her own body. It just ain’t so.

The Democrats always had the option of passing legislation that affirmed a woman’s right to her own body, but they didn’t, because Roe did that work for them.

Well, Roe is almost certainly going down. Instead of telling the base they’ll stop the Republicans, the Democrats should say the Republicans are going after Roe and the only way to protect a woman’s right to choose is for everyone to vote in November.

This is the right strategy. Nothing turns out the GOP base more than abortion. McConnell will hold a vote after the midterms to capitalize on that energy. The Democrats must match it, not by telling voters they can stop McConnell. They must match it by vowing to legalize abortion with a majority of the US Congress.*

This is an inflection point for the Democrats—a moment of rare clarity. They do not have a choice. Not in this #MeToo era. Not with the “pussy grabber” in charge. It’s time to prove the Democrats are the party of women or the party of empty rhetoric.

*This is a separate strategy from the one I called for last week. I said the Democrats must say no to confirmations until the American people know Trump did not conspire with Russia to win. The Democrats should say no, knowing McConnell will go ahead anyway, thus confirming the allegation that he’s abetting Russia. This is the walk-and-chew-gum strategy: attack the court’s legitimacy while trying to legalize abortion via statute.

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

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