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American Carnage

The Republican Plot to Turn Back the Clock Is Just Getting Started

Conservatives have no plans to moderate their destructive agenda after the overturning of Roe. Their next goal: a national abortion ban.

Clarence Thomas and Mitch McConnell
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell at a Heritage Foundation event last year in Washington, D.C.

As told by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson this week, on January 6, 2021, President Donald Trump went to a “Stop the Steal” rally, hoping to meet a crowd of armed and angry supporters whom he expected to personally lead to the U.S. Capitol; he lashed out when he was told that no, he could not join his mob in their collective mission. Hutchinson’s account sent shock waves through the media, and for good reason: Her testimony speaks to Trump’s intentions that day, a pattern of facts that’s often very necessary but very elusive in successful criminal prosecutions.

But while this may have gone a long way to helping some future criminal case get made, it’s also true that we didn’t actually learn anything new about the man who served as the president for four misbegotten years. No new facts are necessary to demonstrate that Trump was a sulky, smooth-brained baby, prone to fits of pouty anger, enabled by a coterie of vile liars and violent stooges. What’s far more interesting is how these revelations reflect upon the contemporary Republican Party. In Washington, as you know, the jury is still out on whether the GOP is redeemable. But based upon what you’ve learned during the January 6 commission’s work, would you say they seem like a party that holds comity, compromise, fellowship, or restraint as a civic virtue? Do they hew to any civic virtues at all?

It’s a question that answers itself; those Republicans who might cleave to a more reasoned form of political rhetoric are mostly doing so now from the safety of newsletters or the MSNBC greenroom; conservatives who once spoke of higher ideals, or even who want to govern, are retiring from their posts. The one avatar of this imagined “better” GOP, Liz Cheney—herself no peach—is being drummed out of the party. With all this in mind, we shouldn’t have much trouble drawing conclusions about the Republican Party’s plans in the days and weeks ahead.

Oddly enough, however, the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe has given rise to a new round of insistences and assurances that the GOP writ large is not as bad as all that. Surely, they won’t pry other hard-won rights out of our hands. Why, they may even build a super-robust welfare state! I’m here to tell you that this is incorrect. Yes, a push for a national ban on abortion is coming. Yes, an attempt to roll back contraception rights and marriage equality will follow. Yes, Republicans will abolish the filibuster to complete their work if they need to. These next moves are fully embedded in the logic of the Dobbs decision, but more to the point, Republicans are simply saying these things out loud.

The conservative justices have, in their legal opinions in Dobbs, embedded vague assurances that they won’t be pushing for more than what they’ve already taken. Alito, for example, wrote, “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” He doesn’t say anything about returning matters to the states, however. The court’s conservative majority, in any event, isn’t shy about stepping in and overruling state governments when they do something that they don’t like. As Carol Rose, the legal director of the ACLU noted, of Alito’s decision, “This is not an originalist document, it’s an ideological document” that invites Republicans at the federal level to forgo their supposed fealty to states’ rights in favor of a snatch-and-grab job.

As TNR’s Matt Ford points out, Brett Kavanaugh, in his concurrence, “emphasized that Dobbs did not threaten the court’s precedents on contraception, same-sex marriage, or similar issues.” He also said “that states could not … ban women from traveling to other states to obtain” abortions. Should you take the conservative justices at their word when they make such commitments? I invite you to recall that just this week, their decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District rested on an obvious lie. Besides all that, there is Clarence Thomas’s own concurring opinion to consider, which does in fact set the stage to undo the aforementioned precedents. While it’s being sold as an outlier among the court’s conservatives, the seemingly far-out opinions that Thomas expresses on one day have a funny way of becoming the majority opinion not long afterward, Matt notes.

Republicans, of course, hardly need the permission of the Supreme Court justices to carry out such aims. As The Washington Post’s Caroline Kitchener reported this week, anti-abortion activists and GOP lawmakers have begun developing their strategy for a national abortion ban. This is no surprise: As I noted in December, the Republican Party is a slave to purity tests. There is no moderating force to be found anywhere in its ranks; only a loud clamoring from its donors and leaders to push further. Lest you imagine there is a place for moderate Republicans, let’s recall the recent television ad put forth by Eric Greitens, the controversial Republican front-runner for Missouri’s Senate seat, in which he led a squad of armed men on a hunt to kill “RINOs,” or “Republicans in name only.” That’s how this party views moderate squishes now—as worthy of extinction.

It’s not clear that Democrats have woken up to what the GOP has become. The Biden administration still seems to think the Republican Party’s fever might break. On Wednesday, Biden reportedly reached a “deal” with Senator Mitch McConnell agreeing to support the nomination of an anti-abortion judge to the federal bench. (The timing is just exquisite.) Sizable majorities of normal Americans, however, both oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to gut Roe and are worried about what rights might be stripped next. No one should dissuade these people of their fears. It’s in moments like this that people, concerned about looming disasters, often get treated by media elites as alarmists—Chicken Littles squawking about doom in the sky. Have you read the news lately? The sky has fallen; the next disaster is on its way.