The United States Supreme Court is making every Republican promise real. For decades, GOP politicians have pandered to their party’s extreme wing with pledges to enact an agenda quite far to the right of the median voter’s preferences. Swing voters largely shrugged, assuming that the Republican candidates they voted for could never be as unreasonable as their rhetoric implied. And for decades, this equilibrium held.
Until, perhaps, now.
Donald Trump’s Supreme Court has essentially fulfilled the empty promises that Republicans made to their base for 50 years. Most prominently, they have overturned Roe v. Wade, paving the way for half the country to ban women’s ability to obtain an abortion. But they have also invited organized prayer back into the public schools of a country that is far more secular than it was when the Warren court prohibited school prayer in 1963. They have sharply proscribed state governments’ ability to regulate guns at a time when rage and despair over the country’s gun-violence epidemic is widespread. And they have kneecapped President Biden’s efforts to combat the climate crisis. Overall, this paints a very reactionary picture.
So American swing voters find themselves in a dramatically more reactionary country today than they did before the Supreme Court issued its rulings for 2022. The die is cast. Republican policies that many Americans never believed could become law are now active in our portfolio of public policies. For swing-district Republicans, it’s no longer possible to continue the double game with winks and nods to the far right while reassuring moderate voters that, when elected, the GOP’s focus will be on mainstream concerns about taxes and economic growth. America is about to see–is already seeing–what forty years of extremist politics looks like unleashed by a Trumpified Supreme Court.
The question is whether swing voters will stage a backlash. And there’s a case study from North Carolina that indicates yes, a backlash may indeed come. In 2013, the state Republican Party rammed through an extreme agenda of astonishing reach. They cut unemployment benefits, enacted a “Monster Voting Law,” slashed education, drastically expanded the places where people could legally carry guns, and restricted abortion. This extremism became an albatross around their necks as time proceeded toward the midterm election. For her part, Senator Kay Hagan made her entire reelection campaign a referendum on then-state House Speaker Thom Tillis’s support for education cuts.
2014 was a red wave and Hagan lost her seat in it. But she came far, far closer to winning reelection than incumbents in other parts of the country, largely because she ran on a backlash against unpopular Republican policy. In the part of the state most keenly aware of ongoing extremism, that being Wake County, there was actually a Democratic wave, carrying the party to a 7-0 sweep in country commission races and numerous legislative victories. Statewide, the party couldn’t overcome a national environment that tanked for Democrats as part of President Obama’s “six-year itch.” But there was hell to pay for an NCGOP that had gone too far. That’s at least somewhat reassuring for Democrats as they enter the second half of a 2022 that had heretofore looked highly forbidding.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.