Do Pro-Lifers Have a Plan?

Pro-life supporters gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., ahead of the March for Life on January 20, 2023. (Photo by Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Happy Wednesday! We’re thrilled to announce that Weekly Standard and CNN alum Mike Warren is joining the Dispatch team. Give him a Twitter follow here.

Up to Speed

  • Sen. Tim Scott keeps taking steps toward a presidential bid. The South Carolina Republican announced the launch of a new exploratory committee Wednesday with a slick video filmed at Fort Sumter, the site of the first shots fired in the Civil War. “Today, our country is once again being tested,” Scott said in the video, timed for release on the anniversary of that battle. “Once again, our divisions run deep and the threat to our future is real. Joe Biden and the Democrats have chosen a culture of grievance over greatness.”
  • A super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made a key hire in Iowa, a crucial early caucus state in the race for the Republican nomination. Sources tell The Dispatch Never Back Down has tapped GOP operative Sophie Crowell, who until recently worked for Rep. Ashley Hinson, a second-term Iowa Republican from Cedar Rapids. Under federal election law, Crowell could seamlessly transition to a DeSantis presidential campaign, should the governor run, as is widely expected. (Never Back Down declined to comment.)
  • Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, a Republican, filed paperwork on Monday to run for Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat in 2024. That Senate contest is shaping up to be one of the most chaotic in the country: Progressive Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego hopped into the race in January, and a host of Republicans are eyeing bids, including former GOP gubernatorial candidate and election-denying MAGA darling Kari Lake, Lake’s former primary opponent Karrin Taylor Robson, and former Senate candidate Blake Masters.
  • The Democratic National Committee has picked Chicago to host the party’s 2024 presidential primary convention. “The convention will take place Aug. 19-22 next year,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported. “It is expected to draw 5,000 to 7,000 delegates and alternates and attract up to 50,000 visitors to Chicago.” (Strange things can happen when national Democrats descend on Chicago—we’re keeping our eyes peeled for a reprise of the 1996 clapping video.) 
  • Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin announced Wednesday that she will run for reelection in 2024. A Redfield and Wilton poll ahead of the 2022 midterms gave Baldwin an even 34-34 approval rating in the state; the Cook Political Report rates the race Lean Democratic.
  • Republican businessman Bernie Moreno filed paperwork on Monday to run for U.S. Senate in Ohio next cycle, joining state Sen. Matt Dolan in the Republican field to take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2024. An official announcement from Moreno is expected next week, NBC News reports.
  • Former Rep. Harley Rouda is exiting the race to succeed Rep. Katie Porter in California’s 47th District after suffering a brain injury after a fall in March. The Democrat said he expects to make a full recovery but is dropping his campaign on the advice of doctors. The Democratic-leaning 47th District, anchored in Orange County, is being vacated by Porter, the popular progressive who is running for retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat.
  • Three-term Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton said in a video announcement on Tuesday that she has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Wexton said the disease is primarily affecting her speech, gait, and balance but that Parkinson’s is not “an untreatable disease, cognitive impairment, or death sentence” and that she hopes to continue serving in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District “for many years to come.”

‘Republicans Need to Figure Out the Abortion Issue ASAP’

As they head into the 2024 presidential cycle, anti-abortion activists are having a tough time figuring out how good they should be feeling.

On the one hand, they’re less than a year removed from Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health—the Supreme Court case that slew their 50-year white whale, Roe v. Wade, permitting a patchwork of “trigger law” abortion restrictions to slam into place across the country. Meanwhile, sympathetic judges and legislators continue to chip away at abortion’s remaining legal edifice. Last week, a Trump-appointed U.S. district judge in Texas issued a ruling ostensibly striking down the decades-old federal authorization of the abortion drug mifepristone, likely setting up another abortion-related showdown before the 6-3 conservative court. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks in his first term, is planning to sign a more restrictive six-week ban with exceptions for victims of rape and incest this month.  

On the other hand, a growing heap of data suggests that the reemergence of abortion restrictions at the ballot box has provoked a huge backlash among today’s electorate. In last year’s midterms, Democrats rode an abortion-access message to better than expected results despite strong economic headwinds and the unpopularity of President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, the pro-choice side prevailed in every state where abortion itself was on the ballot—not only in blue enclaves like California and Michigan, but even in ruby-red places like Kansas and Kentucky. Last week, a state Supreme Court election in purple Wisconsin showed this electoral sentiment continues to burn hot: Liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz, who campaigned heavily on the issue of abortion access, defeated conservative Dan Kelly by 11 points to give liberals a majority on the court.

“Abortion was the central factor in the landslide victory for Janet Protasiewicz,” Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler told The Dispatch. “Young people, especially young women, turned out in record numbers. Across the state, we saw a double-digit gender gap in the early absentee vote. And I should say abortion was the number one issue in Janet Protasiewicz’s TV ads, which ran in every corner of the state. So you don’t even have to connect the dots—they’re right on top of each other.”

National polling data tends to paint the same picture. A CNN poll last week asked respondents which major party—if any—was “closer to your views” on a range of issues. Republicans won handily on the economy, crime, immigration, and government spending and won narrowly on world affairs, freedom of speech, and “parents’ rights” policies. But Democrats had a small edge on “social/cultural issues”—and a major edge on abortion.

The same dynamic has been on display in the wake of the mifepristone ruling. Practically every Democrat in Washington rushed to climb aboard an amicus brief on Tuesday asking the 5th Circuit Court to stay the ruling. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Republicans—including every prospective 2024 contender except Mike Pence—have maintained a sepulchral silence on the subject.

As the 2024 election approaches, pro-life activists have been left to wonder whether the end of Roe v. Wade—the triumphal outcome of decades of tireless work—has turned them into the ugly stepsister of Republican politics.

“Republicans need to figure out the abortion issue ASAP,” Jon Schweppe, policy director of the socially conservative American Principles Project, tweeted in the wake of the Wisconsin election. “We are getting killed by indie voters who think we support full bans with no exceptions.”

Anti-abortion advocates like Schweppe reject the notion that abortion restrictions are a sure loser at the ballot box. Rather, they argue that the last year of electoral setbacks has simply demonstrated that Republicans have yet to coalesce around a broadly palatable message on abortion restriction—or to have the confidence of their convictions to fund getting that message in front of voters come election season.

“I think there’s been a tendency on the Republicans’ part to try to duck and change the issue to something else,” said Frank Cannon, chief political strategist for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (SBA). “And I think that is a losing strategy.”

At the federal level, SBA has tried to rally support behind what they consider a relatively restrained piece of legislation: A bill proposed last year by Sen. Lindsey Graham that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks while allowing exceptions for rape, incest, and the life or physical health of the mother. Such a proposal, proponents argue, would give vulnerable Republicans a landing spot on the issue that would help them push back on Democratic messaging that they want to completely criminalize the practice.

But this strategy continues to run into difficulties on two sides. On the one hand, there are the Republicans who remain unconvinced that anti-abortion legislation at the federal level will be anything but a liability for their side. This group includes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters last year that most Senate Republicans would prefer abortion politics be litigated “on a state level.” And then, of course, there’s the fact that many pro-life activists, for whom abortion politics is a matter less of political triangulation than of deep ideological conviction, simply aren’t interested in pursuing policies that would permit the vast majority of U.S. abortions to remain legal.

“We can’t have two Americas, where you have full protection of life in some states and children treated literally as medical waste in other states,” said Roger Severino, a former Trump administration official who now serves as vice president of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation. “You need a federal solution, and it has to be certainly better than Europe—because nobody considers Europe to be a pro-life continent. And they’re at 12 weeks or so. Anything beyond that, we’re talking about five percent of abortions, and that’s not what the pro-life movement has been fighting for for the past 50 years. We want real meaningful protection of unborn children.”

In the meantime, Democrats think they’ve found a goldmine wedge issue—and they’re looking on with relish as Republicans struggle to hash out their path forward.

“The Republican Party in Wisconsin and across the country is beholden to the most extreme faction of its base on an issue that is political kryptonite,” Wikler told The Dispatch. “I do think the Republican path to viability in these kinds of elections, when both sides are fully resourced, would require the GOP changing gears on an issue that has been one of its animating core arguments for decades. That is much easier said than done.”

New York Democrats to Attempt Re-Re-Redistricting

Frustrated by Republicans’ strong performance last cycle in New York, where they flipped four House seats in Long Island and the Hudson Valley, New York Democrats are turning up the heat on their redistricting efforts. Two new judicial nominations could give them a boost.

On Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced she would nominate Judge Rowan Wilson, currently of the New York Court of Appeals, to serve as that court’s new chief justice in place of the now-retired Janet DiFiore. Hochul also said she would nominate Caitlin Halligan, formerly the state’s solicitor general, to fill Wilson’s current post.

Pending their confirmation by the Democratic supermajority in the state Senate, the two nominees will change the makeup of the state’s highest court—a court that, until recently, had proven a roadblock to Democratic redistricting plans.

Every state redraws its districts every decade following the U.S. census, but New York has had a more tortured time of it than most. The state’s Independent Redistricting Commission, the body set up for the purpose, deadlocked on a new map in 2021. Democrats in the state legislature then tried to pass their own new maps—but in a 4-3 decision, the court ultimately struck these down as an unconstitutional gerrymander and appointed a special master to draw new maps, which ended up far more competitive and thus more favorable to the GOP.

But DiFiore’s retirement has given Democrats the opportunity to try again. Last Friday, Hochul and her attorney general, Letitia James, threw their weight behind Democratic efforts to toss the special-master maps, filing an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit that hopes to kick the maps back to the Independent Redistricting Commission to try again in time to redraw them for 2024.

“Our state’s constitution makes it clear that an independent body, with participation from the general public, is charged with drawing maps for congressional districts,” James said in a statement. “Relying on a process with no accountability and with limited time for public input is not how we engage the public and ensure their interests are addressed throughout this process.”

Republicans are crying foul.

“Gov. Hochul and legislative Democrats were caught gerrymandering and the courts stopped them,” former Republican Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, who narrowly lost to Democrat Pat Ryan last cycle in New York’s 18th Congressional District, told The Dispatch. “Now they are at it again, trying an unconstitutional power grab to eliminate competition and flip the House majority through the courts—not elections.”

Although the redistricting brouhaha caused major Democratic headaches in New York, not everyone in the party is convinced the maps were to blame for their midterm losses.

“While I have some issues with how redistricting was done, I don’t think we could blame redistricting for what happened here,” Jay Jacobs, chair of the New York Democratic Party, told The Dispatch in early December. “I think this was an issue-driven election. And I think that the issue was crime.”

Eyes on the Trail

  • More on No Labels: On Monday, we filled you in on the nonpartisan group No Labels and its $70 million program to field an independent presidential ticket. Although the group isn’t trying to start a brand new political party, its plans do include several components that smack of party activity. To begin with, No Labels operatives explained in an interview with The Dispatch, the group intends to develop a set of consensus, bipartisan issues, similar to a platform, that its White House ticket would campaign on. Secondarily, the No Labels April 2024 convention in Dallas will feature a floor vote to essentially nominate that ticket—not unlike what will happen later in the summer at the Democratic and Republican nominating confabs. “We will have delegates there that will be ratifying the choice of the nominating committee, so there will be a roll call there,” No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy said.
  • Haley on offense: After spending weeks essentially ignoring Trump as the GOP’s 2024 presidential frontrunner, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s campaign team is finally going on offense, Axios’ Alexi McCammond scooped. In a memo to donors and supporters on Monday, Haley’s campaign manager wrote that “it’s increasingly clear that Trump’s candidacy is more consumed by the grievances of the past and the promise of more drama in the future, rather than a forward-looking vision for the American people. Last week, while President Trump was in a New York courtroom, Nikki was on the U.S.-Mexico border offering her plan for stopping illegal immigration.”

Notable and Quotable

“Why would you ever announce when you’ve already cleared the field without doing any work to beat anybody down?”
–A source close to Biden tells NBC News of the president’s looming reelection bid

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