Annul Roe c. Wade has been a cornerstone of Republican politics for nearly half a century. The quest to end constitutional protections for abortion rights has shaped who runs for office, how they run, and what they do when they win. He has funneled huge sums of money into remaking all three branches of government at the state and federal levels in a way that reverberates far beyond the immediate problem at hand. The anti-abortion movement has given us, in different ways, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, and the world-changing chaos that entailed. But in the days after Politico published a leaked opinion from Judge Samuel Alito that would ultimately overturn the 1973 ruling, the party's response was clearly muted.
Republican Senate candidates have been advised to say they’re “consensus builders” on abortion.
Subsequently, many Republicans, such as Senator Mitch McConnell, preferred to focus on the mechanics of history and publicly derided the leak as a historic violation of the rules. (Which it is, thank goodness.)
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson told Politico's Burgess Everett that "the political ramifications of this issue are overblown" and that "it was never an issue for me in Wisconsin."
There weren't the kind of vocal assertions one would expect to achieve a goal that has galvanized and defined the conservative movement for generations. And that cautious, topic-changing response recalled right-wing radio silence last year, when the Supreme Court allowed Texas to temporarily overrule Roe via a phantom decision.
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Some of that is just thoughtful, of course, but that shift in tone is also deliberate. This week, Axios obtained an investigative memo from the National Republican Senate Committee that advised candidates to say that "abortion should be avoided as much as possible" (rather than banned and criminalized) and encouraged them to "be builders of compassionate consensus on abortion policy".”
In a key Nevada Senate race, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt very deliberately toed the current Republican line: he botched the leak while calling abortion rights "established state law." ". As the Nevada Independent's Jon Ralston pointed out, Laxalt himself has already spoken about changing that law, and a few days later he was celebrated at a dinner party for the state's Right to Life organization. It's very obvious when politicians like this suddenly start acting like this.
Roe, of course, never ceased to be a problem for someone like Johnson. For a Republican who ran for office for decades, Roe was not so much an issue in his campaigns as the underlying condition of all his campaigns, the very form of partisan politics. Over the years, you haven't seen many Republicans telling primary voters that they want to find "consensus" on abortion rights.