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Mitch McConnell Said Something That Can Help Democrats Win the Midterms

Democrats need to see to it that McConnell’s remark about Congress possibly passing a federal abortion ban is known to every single American voter.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Moscow Mitch just handed Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi the biggest gift they could imagine. Will they open it and seize on it?

In an interview with USA Today late last week, McConnell acknowledged that a federal abortion ban was “possible.” He said: “If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies—not only at the state level but at the federal level—certainly could legislate in that area.”

What does that mean? It means that Republicans are contemplating a federal law to make abortion illegal—everywhere. That is to say: Even in the two dozen or so states that will pass laws, if Roe is overturned, to keep abortion safe and legal in at least some circumstances, the superseding federal ban would make abortion against the law.

Would such a federal law contain any exceptions, for rape and incest and the life of the mother? These were once the standard exceptions that even conservatives agreed to, but this has changed in recent years as the Republicans have gotten more extreme and tossed those exceptions out the window. I assume McConnell is politically savvy enough not to open his party and its candidates up to the charge of forcing 14-year-old girls who were raped by their stepfathers to have those babies. But given the zealousness that’s overtaken his party, McConnell might not be the one calling the shots. He did say he wouldn’t change the filibuster to pass such a law, so he’s trying to thread a needle here—but the fact is that he said what he said, and for the purpose of campaign attack ads, that’s what matters.

In any case, exceptions or not, the prospect of such a federal law is hideous. Look at this map. Look at the company the United States would be in if a federal law banned abortion altogether. Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Egypt, Iraq, Laos, and a few others. If a ban included some exceptions, we’d still be in some generally unsavory company and would be completely out of step with Europe, except for Poland.

So it’s a grim prospect, such a law. But politically, what a gift. If the Democrats running for House and Senate don’t do everything they can to make these midterms about this and only this, I give up.

I haven’t seen polling on the specific question of a federal law banning abortion. But it’s hard to imagine it would get much more than 25 or 30 percent support. That’s roughly the percentage in many polls of people who say abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances. That number is going to be higher in certain states, particularly in the South. Still, I very much doubt support for a federal legislative ban nudges 50 percent in all but the reddest of red states, where there aren’t going to be any competitive races anyway.

But take Georgia. It’s now a purple state, with a huge Black population and a major city. Cobb and Gwinnett counties, Newt Gingrich’s old stomping grounds, went for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by double digits. Raphael Warnock is a pro-choice pastor and a learned man. His likely opponent, Herschel Walker, is as dumb as a rock. Warnock—and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams—surely ought to be able to get women in Georgia of all ages engaged and voting Democratic to stop the elevation of one more senator who would vote for such a ban. Warnock needs to force Walker to state whether he’d vote for such a ban, which he presumably would since he has said he’s against abortion in all cases. Just make the race about that. Make the ex-running back play defense.  

Or look at Wisconsin. I’d imagine support for abortion rights is considerably higher in Wisconsin than in Georgia. Democrats there must put Ron Johnson on the spot. He seems like the type who’d try to duck the question, but if his Democratic opponent (not yet known; the primary is August 9) keeps the pressure on and raises the issue relentlessly, Johnson is stupid enough to trip up and admit the truth at some point.

This should be electoral gold. I can’t imagine a swing state or swing House district in the country where a majority of voters would support a federal ban, even a partial one. I can imagine women who are unaffiliated voters but lean Republican voting Democratic this time on the basis of this issue alone.

I’ve been hearing anecdotally from friends and seeing on Twitter that women around the country were outraged by the Alito opinion. They’re looking to do something. Well, they should do this. Once the Supreme Court’s decision in the Mississippi case is officially handed down, assuming it’s close to what Alito wrote, women’s groups and other political groups around the country should take McConnell’s quote and hang it around the neck of every Republican candidate in the country, day after day after day.

Will the Democrats do this? I don’t know. Democrats are experts at thinking of reasons not to do something. I have trouble seeing the downside here. I can’t even see how this is risky, except maybe in a very small number of reddish congressional districts that Democrats hold. Maybe Jared Golden in Maine, Ron Kind in Wisconsin, Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, and a few others don’t want to campaign on this. Fine. Let them do what they need to do to win. But for 97 percent of Democratic House and Senate candidates, the specter of Republicans passing a federal law banning abortion should be a huge winner and base motivator.

Election Day is November 8. Democrats need to be planning right now so that on November 7, every voter in America knows that McConnell quote and believes that the Republicans are going to try to pass a federal abortion ban. We’ll see by then whether Democrats have succeeded at doing that. If they have, then they have a fighting chance of holding the House and Senate.