ERICK ERICKSON: Republicans Can Win On The 15-Week Abortion Sweet Spot

The conventional wisdom after Tuesday’s elections is that abortion is a killer for the GOP. Republicans had high hopes of winning the Virginia legislature but lost the Virginia House and did not gain the Virginia Senate. In Ohio, an abortion constitutional amendment passed. But a review of the Virginia data suggests a 15-week abortion compromise actually is a winning issue for the Republicans.

In 2023, anticipating a hard Democrat attack against the GOP on the issue of abortion, Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia led the GOP to embrace a 15-week abortion law that would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. As Democrats revved up their attacks on Youngkin and the Republicans, insisting the GOP would ban all abortions, the GOP pushed back with their compromise proposal over and over.

On Election Night 2023, things did not go the way the GOP wanted. Republicans not only lost the Virginia House of Delegates, but they failed to gain the Virginia Senate. Naturally, the conventional wisdom rushed to explain it all as abortion politics. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

First, what everyone leaves out is that Virginia had gone through state legislative redistricting. Virginia Republicans went into an environment with several races becoming tougher due to the changed lines. Second, Democrats outspent the Republicans in Virginia, attacking the GOP as MAGA cultists who would ban women from all abortions.

What actually happened in Virginia? Faced with new district lines and a Democrat spending advantage, Republicans went from a 52 to 48 majority to a 48 to 51 minority with one seat outstanding as of this writing. That is not exactly a blowout. For even more perspective, prior to the 2021 Virginia House of Delegates election, the GOP held only 45 seats. In other words, even though they lost in 2023, they did not lose in 2023 as badly as the Democrats lost in 2021, despite being outspent and attacked relentlessly on abortion.

In the Virginia State Senate, the GOP went from an 18-seat minority with Democrats holding 22 seats to a GOP minority of 19 with the Democrats holding 21 seats. That amounts to a one-seat gain by the GOP despite the Democrats’ spending advantage in the election.

You could be forgiven for thinking there was a blue wave over the issue of abortion. Actually, the 15-week abortion compromise, which is over three months of pregnancy, is popular. It is probably why the media so forcefully and rapidly declared that abortion cost the GOP the Virginia legislature. The Left needed to set the conventional wisdom as quickly as possible.

It is true pro-lifers have lost all the constitutional amendment fights on abortion. It is true the pro-life movement seems to have been caught flat-footed. It is true that Ohio Republicans failed to mount a strong countereffort to that abortion amendment. It is also true the GOP should probably embrace 15-week or, better yet, call it three-and-a-half-month abortion compromises. If it is all or nothing, the GOP will lose. In Virginia, the GOP presented a reasonable compromise and though they did not win the legislature, they prevented a massive pro-abortion backlash and gained a seat in the Virginia Senate.

Glenn Youngkin threw himself into winning the Virginia legislature and, though it did not work out, it and his abortion compromise did not provoke a backlash as so much of the media and Democrats have claimed. If anything, the fact that Virginia, which has become bluer and bluer, did not overwhelmingly flip to the Democrats in massive numbers should be a testament to the reasonableness of a three-and-a-half-month compromise.

Republicans really hoped Youngkin could win the state legislature. His early voting mobilization probably saved the GOP from a bloodbath. There is a lesson there too in using early voting for the GOP. But aggressively pushing an abortion compromise was not fatal to the GOP. Again, they didn’t win, but they gained a seat in the Senate and only lost four seats in the House despite being outspent in a state that has trended blue for years.

Erick Erickson on November 12, 2023

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