Where Things Stand: Pence Joins Graham’s Great ‘Election Interference’

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MANCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 17: Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at "Politics & Eggs" at the New Hampshire Institute Politics at St. Anselm College on August 17, 2022 in Manchester, New Hampshire. According t... MANCHESTER, NH - AUGUST 17: Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at "Politics & Eggs" at the New Hampshire Institute Politics at St. Anselm College on August 17, 2022 in Manchester, New Hampshire. According to reports, when asked if he would testify before the January 6th committee, he said he would consider it. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images) MORE LESS

While vowing his undying allegiance to the “pro-life” movement, Turning Point USA founder and far-right provocateur Charlie Kirk could barely contain his ire with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) this week as he sweatily yelled at the senator for his abortion ban legislation. Kirk described the introduction of a bill that would ban abortion federally at 15-weeks just weeks out from the midterms as synonymous with “election interference.”

While Kirk is a staunch anti-abortion advocate who only supports exceptions if the pregnant person’s life is in danger, he’s joined Mitch McConnell and other conservatives hoping to take back Congress this fall in their utter befuddlement over Graham’s move, suggesting the senator’s trying to help Democrats keep power.

“Really where have you been Lindsey Graham? That feels like election interference. And I say this as someone who is so pro-life, I would love a total abortion ban, 15-weeks isn’t enough. But I’m also not dumb,” Kirk said during his show this week. “They’re enthusiastic that Lindsey Graham is now making [the election] all about the one issue that Democrats could actually win suburban women on.”

Kirk is expressing a version of what McConnell and others have been quietly predicting for the last several weeks, as extremist, far-right candidates won Republican primaries across the country and the minority leader warned that he might not be able to take back the Senate with this crop of “unacceptable” candidates. People like Blake Masters, who won the Republican Senate nomination in Arizona, read the writing on the wall a few weeks back — Americans generally don’t support the kinds of extreme anti-abortion positions that we’ve seen pop up in red state legislatures post-Roe and the kind of no-exception ban positions he’d held throughout much of his campaign up until that point. In a desperate bid to appeal to more voters, Masters scrubbed his campaign website of his extreme abortion policies and put out a video attempting to paint his opponent, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), as the one with extreme views on the issue.

It’s been the focal point of all the “red wave no more” thinkpieces published in recent weeks: Republicans bit off more than they could chew between Roe‘s overturning and the passage of outright abortion bans in red states with restrictions so extreme they were once only supported by the most fringe members of the anti-abortion movement.

So why is Mike Pence getting involved?

During an interview with RealClearPolitics today, Pence defended Graham’s proposal and even threw his weight behind the Graham bill. The former vice president — who, before Trump, made a name for himself as one of the most hardline Christian-right conservatives to ascend to the national stage — even subtly acknowledged that the bill might be bad for the GOP in November. But his moral convictions hold more weight than politics here, he suggested, arguing the impact of a federal ban “is profoundly more important than any short-term politics.”

“I’m convinced,” he said, “that enthusiasm among pro-life Americans in states across the country is equal to, or greater than, any new motivation by people that support abortion rights.”

While McConnell said on Tuesday that “most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level,” the Pence nod of support for putting control of women’s bodies above party might stir up the kind of momentum Graham needs to put his colleagues on the record on the issue just before Election Day: both Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Ted Budd, North Carolina’s Republican Senate nominee, have agreed to co-sponsor Graham’s potential legislation.

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