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Abortion is on the ballot. But so is loyalty to Trump

Will voters connect the dots between policy and party in 2024?

As voters consider abortion rights, they might question party loyalty. Or maybe they won’t, Curtis writes. Above, activists rally for and against abortion drug access as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on March 26.
As voters consider abortion rights, they might question party loyalty. Or maybe they won’t, Curtis writes. Above, activists rally for and against abortion drug access as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on March 26. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A long-promised Donald Trump statement on abortion has finally been released. As expected, it was vague and pleased few. The former president both bragged about his appointment of three Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, and stopped short of endorsing a national abortion ban, instead pledging to leave the decision up to the states.

While it may anger the faction of his party endorsing a national ban, the statement proves the almost certain Republican Party presidential nominee, as transactional and self-serving as ever, can read the polls and the political winds.

Remember, this is the man with a history of declaring himself “pro-choice,” “pro-life” and in favor of punishing women who seek abortions. I’m not sure what he truly believes, but it’s clear from his dancing around the issue that he knows he could pay a price for the GOP’s anti-abortion rights stance in November.

But maybe dealing in contradictions won’t hurt him and his party as much as Trump believes and Democrats hope.

It may not make perfect sense, but a certain voting pattern has been happening lately. Citizens in red states surprise observers when they lean blue on the issue of reproductive and abortion rights, yet continue to reelect the politicians who support those bans.

Ohio has proven that two things could be true at once: Democrat Tim Ryan, Ohioan through and through, could experience defeat in a 2022 Senate race at the hands of Donald Trump-endorsed Republican J.D. Vance, who just a few years ago was tagged as an elitist leaving behind background and family with his best-selling “Hillbilly Elegy.” This was after calling Trump an “idiot” in 2016.

And those same voters could troop to the ballot box in November 2023 to make sure a right to abortion is enshrined in the state’s constitution — after earlier rejecting a state GOP attempt to make it more difficult to win that right.

Vance was shaken by that result last year, writing “we need to understand why we lost this battle so we can win the war.”

But in spite of the surprise Ohio voters handed Republicans, incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is still facing a tough reelection race in the fall. That’s despite his working-class credibility across the state, a record of accomplishments that have benefited Ohio and endorsements from groups such as the 100,000-member Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council. Brown criticizes free-trade agreements, even those coming from his own party, when he says they hurt his constituents.

His GOP opponent, wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno, may have no experience and a background many voters are still filling in, but he has something much more important — a Donald Trump endorsement.

In a state that voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 by a comfortable margin, that may be more than enough. The fact that Ohio voters have proven to be on board with a Democrat’s record and his party’s stand on the issue of reproductive rights is fighting a growing partisan divide that sees a lot less ticket-splitting.

Inside Elections rates both Brown’s race and that of established Montana Sen. Jon Tester, another Democratic incumbent in a red state, as Toss-ups.

Democrats see abortion rights giving them a fighting chance in states they’ve recently seen as lost causes. It wasn’t that long ago (2008 and 2012, in fact) that the party won both Ohio and even, yes, Florida. With an abortion rights initiative on the Sunshine State’s ballot in November, Democrats have even been dreaming of a resurgence in the land of Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump.

It will take more than dreams in a time when party is also identity.

I admit I was surprised the first time I saw someone at a Trump rally years ago wearing a T-shirt that read: “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat.” But today, with Trump’s affinity for Vladimir Putin, siding with the strongman against U.S. generals and NATO allies, is it so surprising that traditional hawkish, national security views have been upended by the strongman who is the head of the GOP?

Does it work the other way around? We’re about to see in my home state of Maryland, where the very popular Republican former governor in that usually Democratic state, Larry Hogan, is looking strong as he runs for the U.S. Senate. Democrats haven’t even chosen his opponent yet. But will voters in a state that soundly rejected Trump vote for a politician they may like but may not trust once he gets to D.C. on issues such as abortion?

This dynamic may be tested most in states that, unlike Ohio or Maryland, are not so branded with one party in its political representation. Following the slew of red-state laws limiting abortion, will voting reveal more ambivalence on the issue than state legislatures believed?

One that could be a test case is Arizona, which President Joe Biden narrowly won in 2020, and was looking tight in early 2024 polls. With the state’s Republican, very conservative high court this week upholding an 1864 law that bans nearly all abortions, the upcoming U.S. Senate race, likely between Republican Kari Lake and Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, has gotten especially interesting.

Lake has followed the lead of her favorite politician, running away from a law she once praised. Arizona organizers say they already have enough signatures for a ballot measure to enshrine abortion in the state’s constitution.

Whether abortion rights will be the issue to cause voters to question party loyalty up and down the ballot is a question the fall elections could answer.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. She is host of the CQ Roll Call “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis” podcast. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

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