Republican leaders at the state level are increasingly pursuing culture war issues that are red meat for the conservative base, in a backlash to Democratic control of Congress and the White House marking Donald Trump‘s firm grip on the party.
After securing control of 30 state legislatures in last year’s election, GOP lawmakers are using their power at the state level to pursue hot-button issues such as gun rights and abortion restrictions.
Many may fear backlash in primaries from supporters of Trump, who told voters at a rally on Friday to reject Republican candidates who ‘do not stand for our values.’
‘There was a sense that once Trump moves out of town, the Republican Party will return to “normal.” That’s turned out to be a terrible bet,’ says Donald Kettl, a public-policy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Atlantic.
‘All the forces of anger, part economic, part social, that were there to begin with are still alive, still building, and still in the process of trying to transform the Republican Party,’ he added.
Republican state lawmakers are increasingly leading the party’s charge in the culture wars, taking up the mantle from Donald Trump in pushing hot-button issues
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has been particularly assertive on culture war issues, sparking speculation that he hopes to marshal Trump’s base for a presidential run
Republican state lawmakers may also feel emboldened by the 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which they hope will allow them to challenge precedent on issues such as abortion with aggressive new laws.
Texas, South Carolina, Idaho, and Oklahoma have all passed legislation banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or about six weeks into a pregnancy.
Arkansas went even further, passing a law that would effectively outlaw abortion effective on July 31, making it a felony to perform an abortion unless done to save the life of a woman in a medical emergency.
The laws face stiff court challenges, as legislators expected, and anti-abortion activists hope that one or more cases will make its way to the Supreme Court, opening the door for the conservative majority to overturn Roe v Wade.
Republican-led states have also moved aggressively on gun rights. Half a dozen states, including Tennessee, Montana, Iowa, and Texas, have passed legislation allowing legal gun owners to concealed carry without a permit.
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has been particularly assertive on culture war issues, sparking speculation that he hopes to win over Trump’s base for a 2024 presidential run.
Seven states have passed laws and South Dakota has an executive order restricting transgender athletes from participating in public school sports
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, seen as another 2024 GOP presidential hopeful, signed an executive order supporting a trans sports ban
On June 1, he joined six other states in signing a law that bans transgender females from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes born as girls.
‘In Florida, girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports,’ DeSantis said as he signed the bill into law at a Christian academy on the first day of LGBTQ+ Pride Month. ‘We’re going to make sure that that’s the reality.’
Alabama , Arkansas , Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia have already passed similar legislation.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, seen as another 2024 GOP presidential hopeful, signed an executive order supporting a trans sports ban.
After Trump’s unproven claims of election fraud split the party in the House, with GOP Chair Liz Cheney ousted from leadership for rejecting his claim, the issue has become a litmus test and hot-button issue for state lawmakers.
Numerous GOP-led states are also pushing strict new laws that they say will prevent voter fraud and malfeasance at the polls, but which critics claim will infringe on voting rights.
A supporter of former U.S. President Donald Trump wears a QAnon shirt while holding a sign stating he won the 2020 election outside his North Carolina rally on Friday
In Georgia, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill allowing it to appoint a board that can replace election officials.
Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature is pushing to strip Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her ability to defend election lawsuits.
In Texas, Democrats in the state legislature staged a walkout last weekend to block a new election security bill, but Republican Governor Greg Abbott has vowed to call a special session to move the bill forward.
In all, at least 14 states enacted 22 new laws this year that ‘restrict access to the vote,’ according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Another emerging hot-button issue is teaching critical race theory in schools, and Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas have all barred the ideology, which teaches that America and all of its institutions are inherently white supremacist.
Many state-level Republicans long sought to portray themselves as business-minded pragmatists, leaving culture war battles to national politicians, and the rightward push in the states marks a dramatic departure.
It may be a reflection of the focus that conservative activists put on state-level politics during the coronavirus pandemic, when state rules on masks and economic restrictions made a major impact on daily life.
The shift may also reflect a frustration among conservative voters that their causes are not advancing at the national level, with GOP leadership in Congress seemingly fixated on economic issues such as tax cuts.
‘You can make the argument that the work at the state level is a rebuttal or a critique of too much of the GOP leaving this stuff behind,’ Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, told The Atlantic. ‘Trump said it matters.’
At his rally on Friday, Trump pushed Republicans to support candidates who are loyal to him in next year’s midterm elections, and work to unseat those who aren’t.
‘The survival of America depends on our ability to elect Republicans at every level starting with the midterms next year,’ said Trump.
Trump announced his endorsement of loyalist Rep. Ted Budd in the crowded Republican primary, adding a slap at former Governor Pat McCrory, who has been critical of Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election.
‘You can´t pick people who have already lost two races and do not stand for our values,’ Trump said.