What’s the backstory on Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) proposed nationwide abortion ban?
He wants Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) job as top Senate Republican.
Here’s the context.
As the midterms approach, McConnell’s reign over the Senate’s GOP caucus is being challenged. His problem starts on the campaign trail where he is stuck with Trump-backed Senate nominees of questionable “candidate quality,” to use McConnell’s own phrase.
Earlier this year, forecasts predicted a red wave and McConnell’s return as the Senate Majority Leader. But with weak candidates, the party looks set, at best, for a narrow majority — and may have to be content with limiting its losses as Democrats retain the majority.
McConnell is openly playing the blame game with Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) who, like Graham, is doing his best to suggest it is time for a new leader.
“Many of the very people responsible for losing the Senate last cycle are now trying to stop us from winning the majority this time by trash-talking our Republican candidates…It’s treasonous to the conservative cause,” Scott wrote earlier this month in The Washington Examiner.
Scott defied McConnell earlier this year by outlining a detailed GOP agenda that includes tax hikes and the possible end of Social Security. It was a political gift to Democrats, from which McConnell tried to dissociate himself as fast as possible.
But Scott, like Graham, wants to be Trump’s leader in the Senate.
Graham’s shot at McConnell is more damaging coming just weeks before Election Day and with the Supreme Court’s decision ending nationwide abortion rights already proving a negative for Republicans.
Last week, a Fox News poll reported that 63 percent of registered voters disapprove of the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion. In the same poll, abortion was the “main issue motivating you to vote” for 16 percent of voters, a close second to the 19 percent who cited inflation.
McConnell planned to calm the abortion issue for his GOP Senate candidates by emphasizing the view that abortion rights are best decided by voters in each state, not the U.S. Senate.
Graham just destroyed that strategy.
And he did it just as Scott, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) are challenging McConnell for not backing a long-term spending plan to meet a more far-right, Trump agenda.
Graham, Scott, Cruz, and Lee see weakness in McConnell’s post-midterm position as the leading establishment Republican in a party defined by Trump’s tactics.
They see Trump controlling the future of the party, even if it is a smaller party with fewer wins, by riling up far-right voters with culture war issues such as abortion.
Graham, who was a 2016 presidential candidate running against Trump for the GOP nomination, long ago became an obsequious ally. He recently drew attention by forecasting “riots in the streets” by Trump supporters if the former president faces changes for taking classified U.S. documents as he left The White House.
Now Graham sees an opening to put himself between McConnell and the party’s strong faction of abortion opponents who say they don’t care about potential political damage from a Republican Senate pushing a national abortion ban.
Former Vice President Pence said last week that “short-term politics” are less important than advocating for a nationwide abortion ban.
But McConnell has said he has no plans to ever schedule a vote on an abortion ban. He added: “I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level.”
Graham’s bill has no chance of passing the Senate absent an unlikely Republican wave of wins in Senate races.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) would likely oppose Graham’s national ban. In fact, Murkowski is emphasizing her support for abortion rights as she runs for reelection.
The issue is political kryptonite for Republicans who need independent suburban women voters to break for them in purple states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona.
An Economist/YouGov poll released earlier this month found 60 percent of Americans believing abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.
I could find no instance of Graham being asked if he would support McConnell for Leader next Congress. Someone should really ask him to go on the record with that question.
Backstabbing McConnell is a very unattractive look for Graham.
He was once known as the sidekick of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an independent-minded conservative.
That was before the far right laughed as Trump mocked Graham as a “nutjob” and “one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever seen.”
Now he sees his future in McConnell’s downfall. And he is enlisting the zealots of the anti-abortion movement as his army.
This is about exploiting base politics even if it divides the party and runs counter to the will of the American people. For the sake of the country, I hope it backfires mightily on Graham.
As Shakespeare might have written “Et Tu, Senator Graham?”
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.