During former president Donald Trump’s rally in Wilmington, North Carolina on Friday, he aired his normal grievances about how the 2020 presidential election was supposedly stolen — even though North Carolina voted for him twice. He also spoke with voracious enthusiasm of cities in chaos amid crime waves and the US-Mexico border being overrun by an “invasion” of criminals.
All of this was done ostensibly in the service of his preferred Senate candidate, Representative Ted Budd, whom he supported in the Republican Senate primary. But the former president carefully avoided talking about one subject throughout his rally: the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v Jackson decision that overturned Roe v Wade.
This is despite the fact that, aside from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, no Republican is more responsible for overturning the enshrined right to seek an abortion than the former president. Trump’s nomination of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett gave the court its 6-3 conservative majority needed to overturn Roe.
But Trump has presumably realized how unpopular the overturning is, hence his avoidance of the subject. He mentioned abortion in his rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania but talked about how “states will make the decision by the way, the states will make the decision.” And there was no such rhetoric in North Carolina, where the number of adults who support abortion being legal in all or most cases is about the same as in Pennsylvania (and the number of people who say it should be illegal in all or most cases is also about the same).
Yet, in the afternoon during the warm-up acts, an ad played crediting Trump for the ruling on Dobbs. Therein lies one of the central challenges for Republicans: For decades, they promised their most ardent socially conservative voters that they wanted to overturn Roe but couldn’t for various reasons. They knew that as much as doing so would excite the religious right, it would also alienate a good chunk of women voters and other swing voters they need to win eletions.
This leads us to Budd and his Senate race. Polling suggests he either has a slight lead in the race against Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley or is just slightly behind her. But given the fact that North Carolina’s Senate seat has been just out of reach for Democrats since 2008, many Democrats do not want to get their hopes up about the state. They have instead focused more on flipping Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to grow their majority.
Budd is also one of the co-sponsors of the House version of Senator Lindsey Graham’s bill that would ban abortion nationally after 15 weeks. He likes to say that the Democrats’ position on abortion is “out of touch” with North Carolinians.
Indeed, Republicans ranging from Blake Masters to RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to Lindsey Graham have tried taking that position recently — but it hasn’t taken the way they clearly hoped it would. A WGHP/Emerson College/The Hill poll from earlier this month showed that while voters are worried about the economy more than anything else, abortion is more likely to motivate them to vote. Meanwhile, in an Emerson College Polling/CBS17/The Hill survey last week, 58 per cent of North Carolinians polled said that the Supreme Court overturning Roe made them either somewhat more likely or much more likely to vote in the midterms.
That may be why, both during his talk before Trump’s speech and when the former president brought him onstage, Budd did not say a word about abortion or the legislation he co-sponsored.
“When you endorsed me, you said, ‘Ted, it’s because you didn’t back down,’ so I want to let you know that I’m not going to back down either, friends,” he told the crowd. But apparently, he’s willing to back down from a bill he co-sponsored.