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Why Republicans pretended to care about the leak of Alito’s draft

A half-century of fighting has brought them to the precipice of a major victory, and the entire GOP appears overcome — not with joy, but with unease.


After a half-century of effort, Republicans finally stand on the precipice of a historic victory. Most of the party has spent decades, fighting tooth and nail to ban reproductive rights, and thanks to a leaked draft ruling, we now know the GOP is poised to succeed.

And yet, they didn’t seem at all happy about it. In fact, Republican leaders seemed unusually eager to change the subject. Politico reported:

Few Republican lawmakers were celebrating Tuesday after the disclosure of a Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Instead, they were angrily demanding answers to how the document became public in the first place. GOP leaders trained their fire on the breach of Supreme Court protocol that led to POLITICO’s publication of the draft opinion by the court’s conservative majority, with only a handful of Republicans cheering the substance of the document itself even though they’ve long opposed Roe.

Republicans didn’t just wring their hands a bit about a breach in Supreme Court protocol; they begged the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham went so far as to suggest the leaker may have done irreparable harm to the United States.

Look, let’s just be adults about this. The leak was obviously provocative and unusual, and I can appreciate why much of the political world enjoys the palace intrigue, but it’s worth pausing to appreciate a couple of obvious truths. First, Justice Samuel Alito’s draft wasn’t sensitive national security information, and its leak probably isn't going to be prosecuted.

Second, I think reasonable observers can agree that much of the GOP’s apoplexy yesterday was faux outrage. Republicans didn’t spend the day upset about a leak; they spent the day pretending to be upset about a leak, and there’s no reason to accept their theatrics at face value.

Part of this was fueled by Republicans’ eagerness to play the role of victim — they’re assuming, without proof, that the leak came from the left — as part of a larger effort to suggest that only the right truly cares about the integrity of the judiciary. (It’s quite possible, if not likely, we’ll eventually learn that the leak came from the right, rendering all of this moot.)

But at the heart of yesterday’s public-relations strategy was a more concerted effort to distract attention from the underlying substance: GOP leaders would much rather talk about a shiny object — questions about a leak — than the demise of the Roe v. Wade precedent.

Why? Because when it comes to reproductive rights, Republicans and the American mainstream are clearly at odds.

GOP officials had a simple game plan they intended to stick to for the next several months: Push talking points related to inflation, immigration, and crime, and wait for voters to reward Republicans with power.

The looming decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization obviously matters as a policy and health care matter, but for Republicans, it’s something else: an electoral risk that doesn’t fit into the party’s plans.

It’s why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell felt the need to tell reporters during a weird, almost somber Capitol Hill press conference, “[Y]ou need, it seems to me, a lecture to concentrate on what the news is today. Not a leaked draft, but the fact that the draft was leaked.”

The looming loss of a constitutional right, we were told, just isn’t that important.

For Republicans, there was no celebrating. GOP leaders did not exchange high-fives. Republicans weren’t even willing to crack a smile. A half-century of fighting has brought them to the precipice of a major victory, and the entire party appears overcome — not with joy, but with unease.

A professor I know made the case this morning that the war against abortion rights was never meant to be won, it was simply meant to be fought. The post-policy Republican Party is fueled less by substantive goals and more by the search for grievances and power.

Alito’s draft isn’t a gift for the GOP; it’s an inconvenience.