Republican leaders at the state level are increasingly turning to issues of culture wars that are red meat to the conservative grassroots, in response to Democratic scrutiny from Congress and the White House, marking Donald Trump’s firm hold over the party.
After taking control of 30 state lawmakers in last year’s election, GOP lawmakers are using their state-level power to pursue hot-button issues such as gun rights and abortion restrictions.
Many may fear backlash in the primaries from Trump supporters, who told voters at a rally on Friday to reject Republican candidates who “don’t stand for our values.”
“There was a sense that once Trump is out of town, the Republican party will go back to ‘normal’. That turned out to be a terrible gamble,” Donald Kettl, a professor of public politics at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Atlantic Ocean.
“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 transforming the Republican Party,” he added.
Republican state lawmakers increasingly lead the party in the culture wars, taking on the mantle of Donald Trump by raising hot-button issues
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been particularly assertive on cultural war issues, sparking speculation he hopes to rank Trump’s base for a presidential run
Republican state lawmakers may also feel encouraged by the 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, which they hope will challenge precedents 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 after pregnancy.
Arkansas went even further, passing a law that would effectively ban abortion on July 31, making it a felony to perform an abortion unless done to save a woman’s life in a medical emergency.
The laws face stiff court challenges, as lawmakers expected, and anti-abortion activists hope one or more cases will make their way to the Supreme Court, opening the door for the conservative majority to overthrow Roe v Wade.
Republican-led states have also acted aggressively on gun rights. Half a dozen states, including Tennessee, Montana, Iowa and Texas, have passed legislation that allows legal gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a license.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been particularly assertive on cultural war issues, sparking speculation that he hopes to win Trump’s base for a 2024 presidential run.
Seven states have passed laws and South Dakota has an executive order banning transgender athletes from participating in public school sports
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, seen as another GOP president hopeful for 2024, signed an executive order in support of a transportation ban
On June 1, he and six other states signed a law banning transgender women from playing on public school teams designed for student athletes born as girls.
“In Florida, girls play girls sports and boys play boys sports,” DeSantis said as he signed the bill at a Christian academy on the first day of LGBTQ+ Pride Month. “We’re going to make sure that’s the reality.”
Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia have already passed similar legislation.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who is seen as another GOP president hopeful for 2024, signed an executive order in support of a transportation ban.
After Trump’s unproven claims of voter fraud split the party in the House, with GOP chairman Liz Cheney being ousted from leadership for rejecting his claim, the issue has become a litmus test and a hot-button issue for state lawmakers.
Numerous GOP-led states are also pushing for strict new laws that they say will prevent voter fraud and poll crime, but critics say will infringe on voting rights.
A supporter of former US President Donald Trump wears a QAnon shirt while holding a sign saying 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 council to replace election officials.
Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature is trying to rob Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her ability to defend election processes.
In Texas, Democrats in the state legislature staged a strike last weekend to block a new election security law, but Republican Governor Greg Abbott has vowed to call a special session to move the law forward.
In all, at least 14 states passed 22 new laws this year that “restrict access to the vote,” the government said Brennan Center for Justice.
Another emerging hot-button problem is teaching critical race theory in schools, and Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas have all ruled out the ideology teaching that America and all its institutions are inherently white supremacists.
Many state-level Republicans have long sought to portray themselves as business-minded pragmatists, leaving cultural warfare to national politicians, and right-wing pressure in the states marks a dramatic departure.
It may reflect the focus conservative activists placed on state-level politics during the coronavirus pandemic, when state regulations on masks and economic restrictions had a major impact on everyday life.
The shift may also reflect a frustration among conservative voters that their goals are not moving forward nationally, with GOP leadership in Congress seemingly fixated on economic issues such as tax cuts.
“You can argue that the state-level work is a rebuttal or criticism 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 urged Republicans to support candidates loyal to him in next year’s midterm elections, and to topple those who are not.
“America’s survival depends on our ability to elect Republicans at every level, starting with next year’s midterm elections,” Trump said.
Trump announced his endorsement of loyalist Rep. Ted Budd in the overcrowded Republican primaries, adding a punch to former Governor Pat McCrory, who was critical of Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election.
“You can’t pick people who have already lost two races and don’t stand for our values,” Trump said.