September 14, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
What in the world is Lindsey Graham thinking?
His proposal would not only ban abortion nationally after 15 weeks, it would, in effect, ban democratic politics.
Why did US Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, introduce Tuesday a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks? It’s not clear to me, nor does it appear to be clear to anyone else.
For one thing, it’s gilding the lily. The Republican base already has what it wanted. The Supreme Court cut down Roe. About half the states have, or will have, laws banning or mostly banning abortion. I don’t see how a national ban would mobilize GOP voters more, unless the possibility of controlling women in blue states moves them.
For another, a backlash is building in reaction to a renegade court kneecapping federal protections of the fundamental rights to abortion, privacy and liberty. Democratic primary candidates have already “over-performed” so much that the old faith in the House flipping has been replaced by the empirical reality of 50-50 odds.
Enacting a national ban on abortion after 15-weeks could make mad people even madder, zeroing out any advantage there’d be in driving out the Republican base with the promise of enacting a national ban.
Senate candidate like Republican Blake Masters in Arizona, who won his primary by copycatting Donald Trump, is now putting as much space as he can between him and Dobbs, the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling. Though a rightwinger, Masters can’t win without white middle class women. They are the maddest of them all.
I’d guess, from the perspective of Blake and other Republican candidates, that Graham’s gambit is an unnecessary risk. It could help. It could hurt. Even Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell seemed to agree. On Tuesday, he said abortion is an issue best left to the states. Therefore, Graham probably should have said nothing.
So why did he?
Perhaps it’s hubris.
As the Editorial Board’s own Noah Berlatsky wrote last week, the Republicans seem so high on the idea of minority rule that they’re behaving like normal appeals to voters don’t matter anymore.
Noah’s case in point is Social Security. It’s the biggest and most popular government program ever. The Republicans, however, are backing legislation that would effectively gut it. A party that properly fears voters is not a party that goes after their favorite program.
Maybe the same is going on with Graham’s pitch. Though the backlash against Roe’s end has been building apace, the Republicans don’t seem panicked. It’s like they believe that GOP governors in key states can be trusted to produce “correct” midterm election results.
Then again, maybe it’s dysfunction.
As Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein said this morning, parties usually try to learn from their mistakes. State GOP parties, however, keep nominating candidates aligned with the insurrectionist former president. That makes life for Democratic opponents a lot easier.
“[Learning] is what normal parties do,” Bernstein wrote today. “They don’t necessarily diagnose the situation correctly …, but the mechanism is a healthy one: Lose, and attempt to adjust. All other things being equal, in a two-party system there is a strong incentive for the system to attempt to keep voters happy. That’s good!”
But what if there are no strong incentives in the system. On the one hand, as Noah suggested, who needs incentive when the fix is in? On the other, as Bernstein argues later on in his piece, who needs to learn when you already know why you lost – you’ve been cheated?
If you believe the only way a Republican can lose is if a Democrat cheats, you believe there are forces beyond human control that are moving human events apart from human will. That force could be God, but in the case of “cheating,” it’s likely something that’s rooted in the coprotopian depths of propaganda and conspiracy theory.
Once you have accepted that this non-human thing is manipulating human things, you have given up on politics, despite inhabiting a society that remains political whether you participate in it or not. In terms of party, you have given up on competing for voters not due to arrogance or incompetence but belief in the one and only Truth. What’s the point of participating politically when you already know?
In asking whether the Republicans are arrogant or dysfunctional or merely stupid, I think there’s too much focus on intention – which, clearly, is controlling all women, not just those living in red states. We should give equal focus to effects. Those effects include not just controlling all women, but banning democratic politics, so that democratic humans are prevented from challenging The Truth.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.