Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) hasn’t declared that he’s running for president in so many words, but he’s sending a lot of signals. The latest one is simultaneously sure to please the right wing that will, at the same time, determine the nomination and sink the governor’s chances of winning the White House.
DeSantis has signed one of the most stringent anti-abortion laws in the nation, restricting abortion to the first six weeks of pregnancy, when many people don’t even know they are pregnant.
DeSantis is clearly trying to siphon evangelical support away from Donald Trump. The ex-president infuriated the religious right earlier this year when he said pinned the GOP’s disastrous performance in last year’s midterms on the backlash to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
“It was the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters,” Trump wrote on his social media platform.
Of course, Trump had his own reasons for pinning the blame on the anti-abortion movement. His endorsement of spectacularly poor candidates like Herschel Walker cost Republicans winnable seats and the Senate majority.
But just because Trump was shirking responsibility as usual doesn’t mean he was wrong about the impact of abortion on voters. A number of pro-choice initiatives on the ballot last November did well. Abortion seems to have been the issue that handed Democrats a decisive victory in last month’s election for a hotly contested seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, relegating the hard right to the minority on the court for the first time in 15 years.
The fact is, the anti-abortion right is delusional in its belief that a majority of Americans agree with its position. Yet it demands that its politicians agree to that very position if they are to win the movement’s endorsement.
Tony Perkins, head of the hate group Family Research Council, told Politico that DeSantis’ support for the stringent new law will benefit his ambitions.
“Consensus is building across the country that once there’s a heartbeat, it’s a human being,” Perkins said. “So the governor isn’t out of step at all.… In fact, it bolsters his standing.”
Maybe with Perkins and company. But with the voters that DeSantis would need to win a general election, his hardline position is a major millstone. “This will get hung around his neck,” Republican strategist Sarah Longwell told NBC News.
It’s not hard to see why. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, nearly half of Americans feel that the country’s laws on abortion are too strict. Only 15 percent think they aren’t strict enough. What used to be a roughly fifty-fifty split on the issue has tipped in favor of those who think abortion should be legal in most cases. Women – even Republican women – are angered about the attack on their right to choose and are willing to make their opinion known at the ballot box.
Democrats plan to use the issue against Republicans, including DeSantis, in 2024. In that sense, the Wisconsin Supreme Court election is a bad sign for the GOP. The state is so closely divided that it’s one of the key battleground states in the presidential election. The court race wasn’t even close, a sign that abortion can drive turnout for Democrats and against Republicans. If that’s repeated in other states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona, the GOP nominee is doomed.
DeSantis himself seems to know the risks he’s incurring with the new law. When he signed the new law last week, he did it at 10:45 p.m., in the presence of a few dozen supporters and no cameras.
But not to worry. When he signed what was then considered an extremely restrictive measure last year, banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, DeSantis held a big media event, complete with cameras and cheering crowds. There’s plenty of footage from that to use in attack ads.