Transphobia Is Bad Politics: How Republicans Veered too Far Right on the Campaign Trail

by | Nov 15, 2022 | Commentary

Despite all the economic woes poising them for victory, Republicans were not able to summon the “Red Wave” they were hoping for, resulting in a historic midterm election, wherein the party controlling the White House saw serious gains rather than losses.

In some key states, Republicans suffered major and unexpected losses. In Michigan, for example, Republicans experienced a total election wipeout that left them without any legislative power for the first time in decades.

Many have attributed this Democratic sweep, along with the overall underperformance of Republicans, to the tactics conservatives used while campaigning. Their strategies favored attacks on abortion and transgender rights and pushing election fraud conspiracy theories.

After Democrats swept every statewide race in Michigan, state GOP chief of staff Paul Cordes published a memo on how Tudor Dixon’s strategy had failed.

“There were more ads on transgender sports than inflation, gas prices and bread and butter issues that could have swayed independent voters,” Cordes wrote.

Over this election cycle Republicans and conservative groups spent at least $50 million on attacks on the rights of transgender people. Transgender youth were the primary target, with various ads attacking trans athletes being run in multiple states, and fabricated claims of government-condoned sterilization of children and being propped up by Republican candidates.

Experts say the goal of these campaigns against “gender ideology” is to secure the Evangelical vote.

“They have an interest in keeping the base riled up about one thing or another, and when one issue fades, as with same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, they’ve got to find something else,” said Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth professor and historian of American religion. “It’s almost frantic.”

While this intense focus on fearmongering and stripping people of their human rights over any economic issues may have garnered Evangelical support, it was not enough to swing independent voters into Republican favor. Instead, independents swayed heavily toward Democrats.

Running on social issues may have failed to rouse support for Republicans, but it had the opposite effect for Democrats. Abortion was, by far, the most motivating issue for Democrats who voted in the midterms, ranking as their leading concern by a three-to-one margin compared to Republicans.

Voters in multiple U.S. states passed measures to protect the right to abortion or prevented attempts to further reduce such rights. In Michigan, abortion rights campaigners declared victory on a ballot initiative looking to secure a constitutional right to abortion, meaning the state will now evade the imposition of a 1931 abortion ban that was on the books. In the deeply red state of Kentucky, voters rejected a ballot measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion.

It might be time for Republicans to rethink their strategy, as this election made clear that fearmongering and attacks on personal rights will only get them so far.


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