The political cost of rising gas prices is mitigated by the GOP’s success and denial | Opinion

Attacks on abortion rights and Jan. 6 revelations could sway voters to the Democrats this mid-term cycle

The photo below is of Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss (L), former Fulton County Georgia election worker comforted by her mother Ruby Freeman (R) as Moss testifies during the fourth hearing on the January 6th investigation.

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 21: Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss (L), former Georgia election worker, is comforted by her mother Ruby Freeman (R) as Moss testifies during the fourth hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on June 21, 2022 in Washington, DC. The bipartisan committee, which has been gathering evidence for almost a year related to the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, is presenting its findings in a series of televised hearings. On January 6, 2021, supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol Building during an attempt to disrupt a congressional vote to confirm the electoral college win for President Joe Biden. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

By Jonathan C. Rothermel

There is no question that President Joe Biden and Democrats will pay a political price in November for the rising cost of gas. According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), there are more than 145,000 gas stations in the United States, and gas prices are plastered like political billboards for all to see daily. Aside from the weather, the rising cost of gas is probably the biggest subject of “small talk” in the country today.

Normally, Republicans would stand to benefit significantly in an upcoming midterm election because of an inflation rate that was 8.6 percent higher in the month of May than a year ago and an all-time high for the average cost of a gallon of gas (approaching $5 per gallon, according to AAA). However, Republicans should be worried that the political price paid by Democrats will be mitigated by other factors.

First, the recent landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade ended guaranteed abortion rights for women across America. The decision triggered changes in abortion laws in several states that will significantly limit or deny access to abortion, and many other states are poised to follow. In one fell swoop, 50-years of guaranteed access to abortion – within judicial and legislative-defined limits – was undone by six unelected jurists (five of whom are men).

Anti-abortion rights Republicans finally attained the elusive Holy Grail, but now come the consequences. Republicans will have to awkwardly defend extreme prohibitions in practice, such as Missouri’s law that does not allow for abortion exceptions for rape and incest. Furthermore, the hypocrisy of squaring Republican pro-life positions with their lack of support for maternal healthcare, subsidized childcare, and maternity leave will come into sharper focus.

The anti-abortion battle cry was an effective campaign tool to rally those who broadly agreed that abortion was wrong. However, just like with many things in politics, the issue of abortion is more nuanced. While many will profess to be pro-life, public opinion polls still indicate strong support for placing limits on abortions rather than abolishing the practice altogether.

It was reported that even former President Donald Trump admitted that the overturning of Roe v. Wade would cause problems for the Republican Party. Republican support among women, particularly suburban women, had been tenuous due to Trump’s checkered past, which included allegations of sexual assault, and Republicans’ gender gap is unlikely to close with the overturn of Roe.

Second, another recent Supreme Court decision supported by Trump’s three Supreme Court appointees brought yet another victory to the Republican Party. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Court struck down a law that would require a New Yorker to justify why they needed a concealed weapons permit for self-defense. In Dobbs, the Court left abortion rights to the states, but in this case, it took the decision away from states – this contradiction was not lost on some.

The decision came on the heels of one of the most heinous mass shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012. Seventeen elementary students and two teachers were killed in cold blood by a single gunman in Uvalde, Texas wielding an assault-style weapon on May 24, 2022.

Touted as a major victory for gun rights advocates, the ruling expands gun rights and threatens gun restriction laws in other states.

The investigation following the Uvalde, Texas school massacre has called into question the idea “that the only way to stop a bad man with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Heavily armed policemen arrived within minutes outside an unlocked classroom where the shooter was holed up as several young children bled to death inside during the duration of the 77-minute ordeal.

In response, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was negotiated in the Senate and voted into law (fifteen Republican senators and fourteen Republican House members voted for the bill). Although the law is measured in its gun control, it was seen as a significant – and rare – bipartisan victory.

Yet before the ink on the bill had dried, many Republicans condemned the assault on 2nd Amendment rights. Missouri U.S. Senaate candidate, Eric Greitens, a Republican, put out a deeply troubling ad that called for open season on RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) as he stood holding a shotgun. He goes on to say in the ad, “There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”

The chilling and vitriolic response to a bipartisan effort in the aftermath to yet another mass killing in the United States by some Republicans might play well to their base, but it is unlikely to attract independent voters who typically favor sensible gun control measures.

Finally, while much had already been known about what happened on that fateful day on January 6, the public hearings of the House Select Committee are vividly and plainly documenting undeniable culpability on the part of former President Trump to illegally subvert the 2020 presidential election.

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More than 20 million people tuned into the hearings, and many snippets have been widely shared on social media platforms. The chilling details of how close Vice President Mike Pence came to a mob that had professed to kill him seem to come straight out of the plot from some television drama. And yet, astonishingly, Vice President Pence still painfully avoids criticizing his former boss.

Former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue testified that Trump pressured Department of Justice officials to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and Republican congressmen.” It was revealed that several Republican Congresspersons had asked for pardons knowing that they were doing the president’s dirty work.

While Trump claims the hearings are a political witch hunt, testimony under oath from Republican after Republican within his inner circle suggest otherwise. A taped deposition of Attorney General William Barr reiterated – yet again – his opinion that the election was not fraudulent and claims otherwise by Trump were “bulls***.” Even Ivanka Trump, Trump’s own daughter, stated in a deposition that she respected Barr and “accepted what he was saying.”

It is also hard to dismiss the explosive testimony of Cassidy Hutchison, trusted aide to Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows.

Hutchinson offered startling details that indicate President Trump knew the seriousness of the security threats during the Capitol riot yet did nothing to quell it. At one point, Ms. Cassidy testified that Trump said, “They’re not here to hurt me,” when advised that some of the protesters had weapons.  She later added that Mark Meadows and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, also sought pardons for their actions related to Jan. 6.

Thus, the political price that Biden and the Democrats will pay in the midterm elections for the rising cost of gas could be offset by recent Republican “victories” in the Supreme Court and additional details that are being released by the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack.

While the frequency and proximity to filling up one’s gas tank prior to Election Day will still serve as a painful cue for some voters to punish Democrats, there will be more for voters to think about over the summer than simply the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

Opinion contributor Jonathan C. Rothermel is a political science professor at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ProfJCR.

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.