Social Conservatives after Roe – The American Conservative
The possible overthrow of roe should shake the political coalitions in this country. Many predict that one party’s decision to promote unpopular policies will benefit the other party, particularly among moderate voters and in the suburbs. Maybe like this. After all, taking unpopular positions is unpopular. But I think the more interesting controversy will be within the Republican Party, between the pro-life voters who have long called the party home and some of the party’s more recent Trump-era acquisitions.
Barstool Sports is hardly a Republican institution. I doubt its founder, Dave Portnoy, sees himself as a Republican. But I also doubt that many people who have chanted “Let’s go Brandon” at football games and the like call themselves Republicans. As Matthew Walther said, Portnoy represents a current in American life whose members Walther called “Barstool Conservatives”. These voters are not inherently political people, but have become increasingly politicized, particularly by the Covid-19 pandemic and government responses to it. Portnoy and people like him may not see themselves as Republicans, but they pulled the lever for Donald Trump and are now part of the GOP coalition.
And what does Portnoy think about the possible coup? roe? “To go backwards, it shows how crappy politics is … if [abortion] is an issue I’m voting Democrat.” He also said Republicans should agree with him on this issue because it’s just “some religious people” trying to impose their view on the “90 percent, everyone who thinks normally.” And, he added, abortion bans would increase the government’s power to regulate people’s lives and choices, which the GOP claims to oppose.
Portnoy was one of the first and most vocal supporters of President Trump in popular culture. I was in high school for the 2016 election and the campaign before that. There were a number of outspoken Trump fans at school, and if you had asked them why they supported Trump, particularly in elementary school, none would have said “because he’s going to make sure to appoint Supreme Court judges who, if the opportunity presents itself, will tip over roe.” They were not Republicans with family values, nor did they intend to be. The cultural issues that moved them were not the ones that inspired the religious right.
They became Republicans anyway because of Donald Trump. In the past, Portnoy and his ilk viewed Republicans as insufferable moralists, busybodies intent on judging other people for their decisions, and generally no fun. But because Trump was so clear not Under these circumstances, he allowed the Republican Party to escape that reputation among people who did not adhere to Paul Ryan’s budgets or the tenets of social conservatism. And for the Democrats to become the party that tells you what to do and condemns you as immoral if you don’t do it has only sealed these barstool voters’ bond with the GOP — the party of the libertines, the party of live and let live, the party telling censored elites to push it.
And now this strange alliance seems to be about to fall apart.
While the prospect of roeThe overthrow of the US state has prompted Portnoy to express surprise that any normal person would support abortion restrictions. Republicans, particularly at the state level, are talking about imposing more restrictions and even bans. These moves could prove unpopular in the elections. While abortion polls are a mess, they show fairly consistently that only about 15 to 20 percent of the population supports a total abortion ban. Not even a majority of Republicans are in favor of a total ban. It’s hardly a unified basis.
But the split isn’t just about politics. It’s about an attitude. The appointment of the judge who would overthrow roe, and the subsequent implementation of all sorts of state-level abortion restrictions, would be the first big win in a long time for the kind of social conservatives more interested in politics related to moral issues than “owning the rights” over, say, moderation of social media content. The numbers of the former group are declining, which is why the GOP has moved from the moral issues to issues like moderating content on social media. Social conservatives have nonetheless preserved the pro-life cause; Public opinion on abortion hasn’t shifted the way it has on something like gay marriage, and quite simply, abortion is the issue closest to the heart of the social conservatives and they’ve put the greatest effort into getting it fight.
Perhaps Portnoy and later arriving Republicans like him are ignorant of the history and influence of the pro-life movement. Trump made those barstool voters political, so I wonder how much attention they paid to politics before Trump showed up. While Trump’s nomination seemed to promise liberation from religious nutcases and moralizing scolding, the old Republican Party is not dead on this issue.
If you hated the Republican Party’s religious attitudes and morality, Trump allowed you to overlook those things. But the potential for the biggest Social Conservative victory in a long time has brought those characteristics back to the fore. The pro-life movement is riddled with religious crackpots and moralizing scolding, a fact that accounts for many of its best and many of its worst tendencies. I say that (mostly) affectionately, as I myself am both a religious nutcase and a moralizing bully.
Where will the GOP go from here? I suspect that for social conservatives this is the upheaval roe could lead to a series of defeats. By that I don’t just mean that her pursuit of unpopular policies is likely to be bad for her and the party at the ballot box. I think that the social conservatives could lose sight of the Republican Party.
Some of this can be traced back to the way coalitions were formed. Most GOP voters who care deeply about abortion would still vote for the GOP even if the two major parties had identical stances on abortion. These voters tend to agree with the GOP’s policies on other issues. The idea that the abortion issue has caused large numbers of pro-life leftists to turn their heads and vote Republican is simply not true. There are about 50 of these people, half of whom I know personally. Most of them do not vote for any party.
But if Portnoy and his friends think abortion is a deal-breaker, whether out of sincere belief or a self-serving desire to perpetuate a particular sex culture, they could easily leave it to GOP. If a party can take voters for granted, it doesn’t have much to offer them. The GOP could get away with not doing much for pro-lifers, but not for the “barstool conservatives.”
The other issue, as their inaction makes clear, much of the GOP leadership just doesn’t care that much about life and would rather not talk about it. It was something they had to do to reassure some of their constituents, but now the bills are due. A friend who worked in the office of a senior Republican in Congress told me that the office was not exclusively anti-life, and of the staff that was, he was the only one deeply concerned with the abortion issue. If many Republican members can put the issue of abortion aside and focus on their true mission, they will do it.
The national GOP might like the status quo. Not so for the state parties, where the true believers are. The wave of proposed abortion legislation spawned by the Republican state legislature reveals this. And, of course, the institutional network that social conservatives have built up over 50 years will not simply disappear. But I fear they are becoming increasingly marginalized. Other Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks will follow; They will cost and be held responsible for the winnable GOP elections. Defending new abortion restrictions will give lawmakers plenty of opportunities to put their feet in their mouths and expose themselves to blatant attacks.
The transformation of social conservatism upper skin from a movement focused on a few specific moral issues to a rallying call will make it easier for the GOP to become distracted. Are abortions, changing standards of who gets to be a model, and whatever else Elon Musk might do with Twitter ownership all issues of equal importance and moral weight? No, obviously not. But a GOP media apparatus yelling about each of them in the same way and to the same effect gives that impression.
The pro-life movement is about to find itself in the position of the dog that got the car. It was easy to keep everyone on board by pointing roe and say, “We’re against it.” It’s harder to come up with positive ideas, and it’s not yet clear how far many people who identify themselves as pro-life are willing to go. It’s not called the “March for Life” for nothing; the “march for a ban after six weeks with various exceptions” does not have the same ring. Alongside the debate over the merits of total abortion bans over phased restrictions, other contentious issues within the GOP – such as family policies such as paid family leave – do not necessarily become less contentious just because one faction claims they are necessary to create a better post-roe World. The emergence of divisions in what has so far been a surprisingly unified movement could make it easier for GOP leaders with money and power and new conservative Barstool voters to ignore the abortion issue and cut taxes again.
Steve Larkin is a writer from the state of Maine. His work has also appeared in the Weekthe Catholic Heraldand other publications.