The great GOP abortion backpedal: Republicans slowly realize they live in a partisan bubble

Falling poll numbers are a shock to the GOP: Who knew that Americans would be so fond of the freedom to have sex

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published September 1, 2022 1:08PM (EDT)

Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters | Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters | Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The Republican Party line on abortion has long been standard: The value of a fertilized egg far outweighs the value of a living, breathing woman. Is this unwanted pregnancy interfering with your education plans, your ability to leave an abusive relationship, or threatening to kill you? Too bad! So deeply do Republicans value that mindless embryo that your entire life must be upended — or even ended — to preserve that precious ball of cells. But while Republicans may sacrifice the lives and futures of women to preserve embryonic life, when it comes to their own political ambitions, the calculus suddenly changes.

As reporter Areeba Shah detailed for Salon Wednesday, a whole bunch of Republicans are suddenly discovering their "deeply felt" love of embryonic life isn't quite so deep as their desire to win their elections come November. GOP campaign websites are being scrubbed of language affirming a candidate's wish to force 10-year-old rape victims to give birth. Accusations that the over 800,000 abortion patients a year are guilty of "genocide" are being shoved down the memory hole. Candidates, like Peter Thiel-boosted Senate hopeful Blake Masters, once bragged about how they'd ban abortion before the pregnancy test even registers positive. Now Masters is pretending his interest is limited to "very late-term and partial-birth abortion" only. 

It's all lies, of course.

The pinched-face prudes of the GOP have deluded themselves for far too long into believing they speak for "real" America.

Republican-controlled state legislatures are stampeding towards ever more draconian abortion bans, ones that are so fulsome that they prevent miscarrying women from getting treatment, force those with ectopic pregnancies to lose ovaries, and keep postmenopausal patients from getting basic gynecological care. But in order to enact a reign of terror over anyone with a uterus, first Republicans must get elected. And, as they're increasingly starting to realize, most voters aren't that keen on politicians who agree with a recent Students for Life tweet: "Consent to sex is consent to pregnancy."

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Basic common sense should have suggested most Americans actually prefer to live in a country where having a perfectly ordinary sex life does not require playing Russian roulette with your future. Research done by the Guttmacher Institute two decades ago showed that "[a]lmost all Americans have sex before marrying" — 95% do, in fact. It's a number that's likely only risen since then. Most people start having sex in late adolescence and continue doing so for the rest of their lives. Nearly all of them would like to have sex more than they would like to have babies. Marriage doesn't change that fact. Nothing does. Most people have sex thousands of times over the course of their lives, but most women have fewer than 2 children in a lifetime. Keeping things that way means having access to contraception and abortion. With the Roe overturn, Republicans are already taking away the latter and, as Justice Clarence Thomas' broadside against contraception rights made clear, they look to be coming for birth control next

And yet, by their scrambling to hide their radical anti-choice views from voters, Republican politicians are making it quite clear that they had no idea that being the Stop F*cking Party wasn't going to go over well with voters. That's because most of them live in a bubble of right-wing propaganda, and have fallen out of touch with the lives of ordinary Americans.

Inside the right-wing bubble, ordinary human sexuality is treated like an aberration, especially if it involves any hint that women might have sex for reasons other than a reluctant duty to their husbands. For instance, Ben Shapiro, a popular right-wing podcaster, recently went off on a rant about the popular Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion song "W.A.P.," in which the two rappers exchange playful lyrics about female sexual desire. Shapiro got dunked on up and down the internet for claiming that anyone whose vagina gets wet from sexual arousal must be suffering from a serious medical condition. 

Republicans are quickly learning that most Americans really aren't the puritans they imagine them to be. 

It's unlikely that Shapiro actually doesn't know that vaginas lubricate upon arousal. He was just using this song's popularity to signal that female sexual desire is so shameful and abhorrent that it should be treated like it's a sickness. He's not an obscure person, either. Shapiro's show has 900,000 paid subscribers. His show is a good indicator of how the right-wing bubble is constructed, and how the people who live in it can start to convince themselves that their views on female sexuality are normal and widespread. His program is especially popular, but it's far from alone. Republican media loves some light titillation of male viewers with the leggy anchors, but overall, they prefer to paint a picture of an America where "normal" people are supposedly not having that much sex, waiting until marriage is common, women don't really want it, and women who do want it are dirty sluts. Clearly, a lot of Republicans have lived in that bubble for so long they're starting to believe their own nonsense. 

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To be fair, the mainstream media has made it far too easy for Republicans to tell themselves a story about how the rest of America is as prudish as they are. For decades, abortion rights have been presented as "divisive," even though the support for keeping abortion legal has enjoyed strong majority support this entire time. This has been made worse by polling that frames the issue in moralistic terms or asks if there should be "exceptions," allowing respondents to believe there's a way to ban abortions so they personally can get one, but someone else cannot. Prior to the Roe overturn, the entire discourse was distorted by this supposed perennial fact of American life: A huge chunk of people think the kind of sex they're having is good and wholesome, and it's only those "other" people who are doing it wrong. People thought they could make these kinds of moralistic judgments to pollsters because they never thought abortion would actually be banned and birth control threatened. But the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs stripped that illusion away, making it clear that abortion bans do not care if you had a condom break with your college boyfriend or if you got pregnant from a drunken one-night stand.

Abortion bans do not care if you're married. Abortion bans don't care if you wanted a baby but found that this wasn't a good time or your health couldn't handle it. Abortion bans increasingly don't care if you're a rape victim. To those banning abortion, if you have a vagina and you've touched a penis, you're all equally sluts and all deserve punishment. 

And so yeah, it's no surprise that the public is revolting and Republicans, who thought they'd swan into strong congressional majorities this November, are starting to see their prospects diminish. Democrats are winning special elections no one thought they'd win. While Republicans are still a favorite to win the House this November, due in large part to Republican gerrymandering, things aren't looking quite as easy for Republicans as before the widespread abortion banning. 



High-ranking Republicans are starting to squabble with each other, pointing fingers and blaming each other for the perception that they're a bunch of misogynist radicals who can't wait to turn this country into Gilead. But, to be clear, they are all collectively to blame. They wallowed in a bubble world where popular podcast hosts posit that it's a medical crisis if a woman experiences sexual arousal. So it's on them if they had no idea that most Americans really do not share this blanket loathing of female sexuality. 

The mainstream media often talks about "partisan bubbles" in strictly left-wing terms, wagging their fingers at liberal audiences in coastal cities about how supposedly "out of touch" they are with "real" Americans sitting in diners in Iowa. But, as former Republican Max Boot wrote Wednesday in the Washington Post, the "blue havens" are "closer to an increasingly liberal mainstream than the MAGA redoubts where pickup trucks sport 'Let's Go, Brandon!' bumper stickers." Most Americans are pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ rights, and they do not think you're broken if your vagina gets wet during sex. The pinched-face prudes of the GOP have deluded themselves for far too long into believing they speak for "real" America. They're quickly learning that most Americans really aren't the puritans they imagine them to be. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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