Mitch McConnell is promising to ram through the nomination of another religious nutjob to the Supreme Court before Republicans’ electoral minority blinks into darkness, perhaps forever. In the process he’ll destroy the legitimacy of the last semi-functional branch of our government, initiating a crisis for democracy with no clear resolution.
His motive is to protect the class of kleptocrats who’ve made him wealthy from a looming new era of oversight, but it’s tough to convert that goal into a bumper-sticker slogan. Republicans will justify their power grab as a measure to end abortion. White evangelical bigots on whom the party built its governing minority will cheer while the former anchor of the free world tears loose from its moorings into a life or death struggle against fascism. Why?
A fetus is the perfect political constituent. It doesn’t complain. It doesn’t vote. It doesn’t get any government handouts. It doesn’t kneel during the anthem. It doesn’t exist as other than a potential, a potential that impacts someone else. A fetus is a collection of cells inside a woman, which can be magically converted by bigoted laws from a possibility to a liability. Once a fetus becomes a baby, living, breathing, making demands, shitting all over the place, it’s someone else’s problem. Republicans love fetuses while leaving mothers and babies to rot. No Lives Matter.
Elevating a fetus into a lever against the interests of women costs the median Republican, an affluent, aging, high school educated, nominally religious white man in an exurb or small town, nothing at all. Imposing draconian restrictions on abortion creates bizarre and often downright insane restrictions on a woman’s options for health care, career, finance, housing, and just about everything that influences an individual’s life outcomes. Which is, of course, great for the median Republican voter, even improving his relative power in the world.
Abortion is an elegant stand-in for the priorities of the average Republican voter, preservation of an order in which the best of our society’s benefits are reserved for white men. Banning abortion means imposing pointless restrictions on people’s capacities to advance themselves in society, further locking in place the advantages of those who benefited from an earlier system.
Republican leaders and major donors have exchanged empty promises of ending abortion for a get out of jail free card, going on an unprecedented crime spree, looting consumer protections, environmental laws, securities and bank fraud rules, and feasting on a government spending spree unseen since World War II. Notice what Republican have, and haven’t done in recent years as they enjoyed unprecedented national control.
Republicans wasted no time destroying the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, passing the largest upper class tax cut in history, and rolling back environmental protections. Republicans could have forced a challenge to Roe v Wade by passing a national ban on some or most abortions. They didn’t do it. When Trump had Supreme Court seats to fill, he twice passed over the straight-laced, anti-abortion activist Amy Coney Barrett in favor first for Gorsuch. Then Trump ignored Coney Barrett to select an ethically compromised frat boy with financial debts to the kleptocratic class.
Four years into this Republican binge, and Planned Parenthood continues to get Medicaid funding. Almost every priority of the so-called “pro-life” movement was ignored while Republicans went on a bender stripping away every available restriction on the power of wealthy kleptocrats while leaving abortion rights largely intact. Then this year, in what was supposed to be a surprise, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote in a case that preserved the core of Roe v Wade against an attack in June Medical Services v Russo.
Ending Roe would be an existential disaster for Republicans. Pro life rhetoric is the last strawman, the final pretense that the GOP stands for something other than naked white supremacy as the enabler of kleptocratic fascism. Republican insiders will flinch from allowing Roe to die because it would destroy their last claim to legitimacy. The pro-life movement survives on its perceived irrelevance, thanks to the security delivered by the Roe decision. If the fundamental protections to not merely reproductive rights, but the basic right to privacy delivered by Roe were placed back at the mercy of the democratic process, the shape of that process would change overnight in ways Republicans cannot bear to imagine. A Republican governing strategy premised on low turnout, low engagement, and general public malaise would be threatened by the end of Roe.
That said, Republicans have been playing a dangerous game for decades, pretending to care about abortion to rile up a loony white religious base. They may lose control of this Frankenstein. Enough people have been recruited into Republican politics by phony abortion posturing that it may not be a ruse anymore. Men like McConnell may lose the battle to preserve abortion as a wedge issue, and lose their last fig leaf of respectability in the process. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he sees the end approaching for Republicans regardless what he does. Now that he’s wrung a fortune from his position in government maybe he’s ready to set the system on fire.
You can be sure of this much. If Americans come to believe that their most fundamental rights to medical care and reproduction depend on political engagement, rather than on the wisdom of some robed council of elders, the impact to Republicans’ minority governing strategy will be catastrophic. Republicans will scheme to keep abortion alive as a hopeless political issue, beyond reach of the democratic process, for as long as they can. What they’ll do when or if that firewall disappears is anyone’s guess.