Trump, abortion fight spells disaster for Virginia Republicans


for the General Assembly elections in Virginia in 2023, the lesson of this year’s midterms is clear: abortion rights and Donald Trump’s continued presence on the national stage will dominate campaigns.

The 2023 elections for all 100 seats in the House of Delegates and all 40 seats in the State Senate will be fought on multiple fronts: some of them regional, some of them specific to Virginia, and some of them tied to uniquely Washington issues and personalities. But nothing will dominate the political landscape across the Commonwealth over the next year like abortion rights and the former president’s return to the presidential campaign.

Regarding abortion, the importance of an issue created at the federal level by June Dobbs Supreme Court ruling that ended 49 years of legal protections for abortions will be even greater in Virginia’s elections later this year, as abortion rights are now an issue for all 50 states are legislatures.

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Virginia Republicans have left an indelible mark as advocates of significant restrictions, including outright bans, on abortion. Following the Supreme Court decision in June, Roe v. Wade, Gov. Glenn Youngkin proposed banning abortions after 15 weeks gestation, before many women realize they are pregnant. But he also said in an online forum with the Family Foundation of Virginia that he would “sign every bill that comes on my desk … to protect lives.”

Democrats will aggressively pursue the issue, particularly in counties located in Virginia’s densely populated suburbs, which since the redistricting can dictate statewide elections and the balance of legislative power. They will argue that an innocuous-sounding 15-week deadline (compared to around 26 weeks today) is just a hunting horse for ever-tightening restrictions.

The political key is that the Dobbs decision robbed Republican candidates of a disarming argument to camouflage their opposition to abortion rights. From 1973 when Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, until it was repealed in June, savvy anti-abortion candidates veiled their positions by saying they respected precedent and constitutional law. Aside from peripheral constraints such as requiring minors to obtain parental consent, denying public funding for abortions, and banning certain rare procedures performed later, they maintained that they posed no threat to women’s reproductive autonomy. Dobbs has now removed her cover. They can no longer please pious anti-abortionists and appease moderates at the same time.

Abortion rights were a major factor in the midterm elections, particularly among women, who accounted for 52% of the turnout. In contrast to national polls, which largely dismissed the issue’s importance, Exit polls showed that it ranked second behind inflation and the economy in voters’ minds.

Low presidential job hiring numbers and an economy weighed down by the worst inflation in 40 years would normally result in a red rout that could give the GOP near-veto majorities in Congress. That didn’t happen this year.

As bleak as President Joe Biden’s numbers are, voters across the country spurned Trump and pro-Trump candidates. Expect the same to happen in Virginia next year.

For decades, the Virginia general election revolved around extremely narrow-minded questions of whether Richmond was governed by Democrats or Republicans. But state politics became more nationalized during Donald Trump’s presidency, which is likely to last into 2023.

Since 2016, the Virginia election has been, in large part, a referendum on Trump. The GOP suffered and will follow the party in next year’s General Assembly races with Trump’s announcement that he will run again in 2024. The applause from Trump’s supporters in Mar-a-Lago as he announced his next campaign could never be measured, to the thunderous cheers and champagne cork popping of Democrats across the Commonwealth as they announced the former President’s return to learned the politics of the presidency.

Despite the GOP’s disappointing midterm results, Trump remains impressive within the party, and Trump-averse Republicans have little hope of a nomination. On the outskirts and suburbs, candidates who embrace Trump to win primary elections will carry that taint in next November’s general election in counties with clear records of opposition to anything Trump-related.

Nothing will help the Virginia Democrats next year more than the former president, who is bouncing from rallies to rallies spewing the kind of nonsensical abuse that Virginia voters have consistently dismissed throughout the Trump presidency years and this year as well.

Virginia’s 2023 election will be a referendum on abortion rights and former President Trump. It’s a formula for a GOP disaster.

Mark J. Rozell is Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Contact him at [email protected]