Amarillo, Wisconsin.

John Ellis
6 min readApr 11, 2023


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There’s a wealth of good detail in this piece about last Tuesday’s special state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin. Judge Janet Protasiewicz (liberal Democrat) defeated former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly (conservative Republican) by 11 percentage points. It wasn’t quite a landslide, but it was a rout.

Mark Halperin has a smart take on what explains it :

Here are the four interrelated factors that were put in sharp relief by the massive Blue victory in the Badger State contest, all of which were big deals in 2022 and all of which threaten Red chances in the 2024 presidential and down-ballot contests:

1. Fundraising.

As PBS Wisconsin reports, Democrats had a huge edge with big donors in this race — a dynamic that becomes double troubling for the GOP when you look at the massive edge Joe Biden’s party has with small-dollar givers as well.

The twin moolah streams (big and little) threaten to crush Republican candidates, which is why Ron DeSantis is intriguing to many.

2. Early in-person and by-mail voting.

Although Donald Trump and other previous skeptics have come around, Democrats retain a massive edge in mechanics and voter attitude — and it showed bigly in Wisconsin.

3. The power of abortion rights to drive votes, creating a massive gender gap edge with women for Democrats, and influencing suburban voters.

This angle is covered by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, all of whom point out that continuing Republican legislative efforts to restrict access to abortion and the party’s failure to have a clear, passionate, broad voter-inspiring position on the issue is a major electoral problem.

4. Trump-aligned MAGA candidates who threaten democratic norms undermine the power of Red issue advantages (on crime, etc).

Consume this essential reading Washington Post piece on this point.

These are not four peripheral matters. They were solid Blue pillars in many 2002 races and in Wisconsin Tuesday.

Even if Republicans had robust plans already underway to defuse this quad of challenges, it might already be too late to effectively deal with them by 2024.

For decades, Republicans were able to promise that they would do everything in their power to overturn Roe v. Wade, secure in the knowledge that with each passing decade, Roe v. Wade would become ever more embedded as “settled law” and thus ever less likely to be over-turned. A friend of mine put it this way: they never imagined the dog would catch the car.

They underestimated the tenacity and perseverance of the anti-abortion movement. Over the course of 50 years, it embedded itself into the GOP infrastructure and worked to get “pro-life” judges appointed to state and federal judgeships. It engineered legislation designed to be litigated before those judges, who in turn kicked appeals up to the Supreme Court. And there those appeals died or were denied, due to “settled law.”

“Settled law” unsettled when The Federalist Society, The Trump administration (especially Vice President Pence) and Sen. Mitch McConnell decided to reward the pro-life movement’s hard work and unswerving loyalty with three “not-settled-law” Supreme Court picks. In short order, Roe v. Wade was tossed out. The new law of the land was Dobbs v. Jackson.

Republicans are stuck with it now, much to their chagrin. In the wake of the Wisconsin election, a chorus of alarmed Republican “strategists” and conservative media commentators took to the keyboards and cable TV to urge GOP and right-to-life leaders to find a“consensus position,” and support “common sense legislation” on “the issue”

Good luck with that. Abortion isn’t a split-the-difference “issue” for pro-life voters. It’s a moral issue, a matter of life and death. Anti-abortion movement leaders might tolerate some “finessing” of the issue — say “viability at 15 weeks” — but their “constituents” will not.

Why should they? They didn’t work hard for half a century to walk back victory. They worked hard to win. The notion that Republican candidates can fudge their way through this seems fanciful, to say the least. Pro-life voters vote, in Republican primaries, in large numbers. Being the “compromise candidate on abortion” in, say, Wisconsin, in a head-to-head GOP primary election, is a one-way ticket to defeat.

And now there’s this:

In a potentially devastating blow for abortion access nationwide, a federal judge in Amarillo has suspended the approval of mifepristone, an abortion-inducing drug that has been on the market for more than 20 years.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s ruling will go into effect in seven days, to allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration time to appeal the decision.

“The Court does not second-guess FDA’s decision-making lightly,” Kacsmaryk wrote in the ruling. “But here, FDA acquiesced on its legitimate safety concerns — in violation of its statutory duty — based on plainly unsound reasoning and studies that did not support its conclusions.”

Kacsmaryk wrote that the FDA succumbed to political pressure when it approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago and subsequently lifted restrictions on the medication over the ensuing two decades, arguing that “the lack of restrictions resulted in many deaths and many more severe or life-threatening adverse reactions.”

Medication abortion is the most common way Americans terminate their pregnancies. Mifepristone, when taken alongside misoprostol, has been proven to be safe and effective and is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization.

This is the first time a judge has unilaterally, against the FDA’s objections, removed a drug from the market,” said Greer Donley, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies FDA law. “A judge who has … no scientific expertise, overruling the agency that has a ton of scientific expertise.”

Kacsmaryk has deep ties to the anti-abortion movement, and the language in the 67-page ruling, released at 5:30 p.m. Friday, reflects those ties — calling abortion providers “abortionists” and describing the use of mifepristone as killing or “starv[ing] the unborn human until death.” (Source:

Oh my.

In the vernacular, Dobbs says “let the states decide.” With this decision, a Trump-appointed Federal District Court Judge is saying: “abortion-inducing medication is illegal, everywhere.” His decision will be appealed, as will a contrary opinion from a federal judge in the state of Washington, teeing up a showdown at The Supreme Court.

If the Court upholds Judge Kacsmaryk’s opinion, then the Republican Party is looking at some lean years in swing states. Assuming Democrats do not nominate left-wing loons as nominees in those states (not a safe assumption), they will likely win race after race, up and down the ballot, on the power of the abortion issue. Republicans can’t win elections if female voters in large numbers don’t want them to.

There are elections that foreshadow what happens next. The approval of Proposition 13 in California in 1978 foreshadowed the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. The defeat of Richard Thornburgh in the 1991 special US Senate election in Pennsylvania foreshadowed Bill Clinton’s election in 1992. The defeat of a right-to-work referendum in Missouri (by a huge margin) in August of 2018 foreshadowed the end of Republican control of the US House of Representatives three months later. The defeat of (what was framed as) an anti-abortion referendum in Kansas in August of 2022 foretold the GOP’s “under-performance” last November.

What happened in Wisconsin last Tuesday, when combined with what happened in Amarillo yesterday, augurs ill for the Republican Party. Woe betide the GOP leadership if it seeks to undo, legislatively, what the right-to-life movement has accomplished. Woe betide the GOP primary candidate who promises to “trim” those accomplishments. Woe betide the GOP general election candidate with Dobbs and (perhaps) Judge Kacsmaryk’s opinion wrapped around his or her neck.

One can argue that the Dobbs decision won’t do that much damage to the GOP in 2024. Other issues may be top of mind. Dobbs plus Kacsmaryk would do real damage. The two, together, are unforgettable.

What the Supreme Court decides on the appeal(s) will substantially affect the electoral outcomes in swing states and swing districts in 2024, all across the country. In politics, it’s not the action, it’s the reaction. We await the action. We can anticipate the reaction. Republicans are already praying that Judge Kacsmaryk’s opinion is overturned.



John Ellis

Founder and Editor, News Items. Political analyst. Founder of and contributing editor to Bird News Items. Former columnist for The Boston Globe.