The enactment of Alabama’s abortion ban, leaving no exceptions for rape or incest, was a worst-case political scenario for national Republicans. The law—an overt attack on women, their civil rights, their personhood, and their basic healthcare needs—didn’t just drop in a vacuum. It was dropped into the middle of a raging war for America’s soul, its future, and its very existence that is being fought foremost by women.
It comes in the aftermath of the elevation of a sexual assaulter to the highest office in the land; three national women’s marches that drew out marchers by the millions, dwarfing attendance at the assaulter’s inauguration and making the tea party protests of 2009 look like child’s play; the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport movements that have swept through the entertainment industry, high-powered board rooms, and politics alike; a gut-wrenching Supreme Court nomination battle in which the assaulter nominated another assaulter who the GOP confirmed as the fifth anti-Roe vote to the nation’s high court. It comes after a midterm election in which a historic number of women ran for office, a historic number of women won office, and a historic number of women fled the Republican party to vote for Democrats by a nearly 20-point margin, close to doubling the GOP’s female voter deficit in 2016.
Every one of those women who turned out in 2018 to vote for Democrats just got a flashing red reminder about getting to the polls in 2020 and bringing at least two of their friends with them.
What national Republicans know is that the Alabama ban is too politically lethal to touch. Trump didn’t even tweet about it. But more importantly, House GOP leadership never mentioned it at their Wednesday press conference and then wrapped without taking any questions from reporters. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming all “slipped out of the press conference ahead of reporters’ questions, due to what a House GOP aide called scheduling conflicts.”
GOP senators, especially ones facing tough 2020 re-elections like Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, also spent the day dodging reporters and dodging the topic. “That’s a state issue. I’m focused on my work here,” McSally told the Washington Post in a hallway interview at the Capitol.
What’s got the GOP culture-war crusaders so tongue tied? Public opinion, that’s what.