Herschel Walker came out pretty aggressively in his debate with Raphael Warnock, and what got the most attention was him again denying any abortion payment and flashing an honorary sheriff’s badge.
The debate probably helped the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia, who had lowered expectations (“I’m not that smart”). At the same time, he acknowledged to NBC yesterday that the $700 check he sent to his accuser was his (she’s now the mother of one of his kids), and the ceremonial badge could remind people that he’d lied about being in law enforcement.
But that wasn’t the most important thing that happened on that stage.
It was that Walker changed his position on two issues that were crucial to his winning the nomination, with Donald Trump’s backing.
One was his 100% pro-life position on abortion, with no exceptions, no way, no how. This fueled the criticism from opponents that he allowed himself an exception in sending that check to his girlfriend back in 2009, but wouldn’t give Georgia women the same choice.
But in the debate, Walker backtracked. He said he now supported the Georgia legislature’s ban on abortion after six weeks, complete with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother in medical emergencies or if their pregnancies cannot successfully be brought to term.
By way of explanation, Walker said he is a Christian but is “also representing the people of Georgia” and would “stand with them.”
The other change was on the stolen-election front. Back in late 2020, Walker said, “I can guarantee you, Joe Biden didn’t get 50 million voting for him. But yet people think that he’s won this election.” In the debate, he said Biden had won the election. (It was with 81 million votes, by the way.)
Walker’s got some company in the GOP; he’s just the most recent example. When Blake Masters won the Senate nomination in Washington state, he quickly scrubbed his website of harsh anti-abortion rhetoric and support for a personhood amendment, as well as talk of a rigged election.
It’s true that candidates in both parties inch toward the center during a general election. Democrats try to placate their liberal wing and then backpedal, saying, well, Medicare for All has its good points but I’m not saying you should lose your private insurance.
But when it comes to such fundamental issues as abortion and election fraud, did these Republicans believe what they were saying then–or what they are saying now?
Given the majority support for the now-defunct Roe v. Wade – and the pro-choice victory in a Kansas referendum – are these nominees just afraid of the real-world consequences?
Or you could describe it as wakeup to political reality – it was easy to take a maximalist pro-life position when it was theoretical, and now being against exceptions – such as forcing a woman to give birth to her rapist’s baby – can sound heartless.
In Minnesota, GOP nominee Scott Jensen said last spring he would “try to ban abortion” as governor, and didn’t support any exceptions unless the mother’s life was in danger. Jensen, a doctor, has since made a video saying his previous comments were “clumsy” and he now supports rape and incest exceptions.
In Iowa, Republican House candidate Zach Nunn wrote an op-ed saying he’s pro-life but supports the exceptions: “I share the frustrations of many I’ve spoken to on both sides of the issue who seek a compassionate and pragmatic discussion around life.”
In Michigan, Republican House candidate Tom Barrett called himself “100 pro-life–no exceptions,” but has now removed any reference to his abortion views on his website. Instead, he denounces Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin for “some of the most extreme abortion policies of anyone in Congress.”
And that raises a crucial point. Many Democrats, worried about angering their base, refuse to say they are against late-term abortions, which could continue up to the ninth month. Such very late procedures clearly goes against the mainstream consensus that is more supportive of abortion in the first two trimesters.
On CNN, Dana Bash repeatedly pressed Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for Arizona governor, whether she would support any limits on abortion, and Hobbs, looking uncomfortable, kept saying this was between women and their doctors.
“When you’re talking about late-term abortion, that is incredibly, extremely rare… something has gone incredibly wrong in that pregnancy… Politicians do not belong in that decision,” Hobbs said.
She is running against Kari Lake, a Trump-backed Republican who had taken a no-exceptions stance but now is more vague. On CBS, Lake would not say whether she would go beyond a 15-week ban passed by the legislature earlier this year but said “I will uphold the law, whatever that law is.” (She also walked back a comment in a radio interview that abortion should be “rare and legal.”
Given the importance of abortion rights – although it has fallen far beyond the economy and inflation in recent polls – the media should scrutinize these changes, explanations and evasions on both sides.