Thursday, November 10, 2022


Until I read Michelle Goldberg's column today, I didn't realize that the Democrat who's neck-and-neck with Lauren Boebert in her reelection bid made a personal story about abortion a key part of his campaign pitch:
[Boebert's] challenger, the Democrat Adam Frisch, is the son of an OB-GYN who performed abortions; Frisch told me he remembers his dad receiving bomb threats. “That whole issue has been a very personal conversation, and it certainly got as much applause as anything when I was going around on my tour,” he said on Wednesday morning.
Tom Bonier, who spent the last days of the campaign touting positive Democratic polling and early voting numbers -- messages that were derided as "hopium," but that turned out to be accurate -- speculated to Goldberg that the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade focused many voters' minds on the GOP's overall extremism.
When it comes to reproductive choice, Republicans are simply out of touch with the values of a significant part of the electorate. “I do think there is a broader narrative of Republican extremism that Dobbs really connected the dots on,” Bonier said.
Although they couldn't undo all the damage, Republicans got this, as a Washington Post story on the GOP campaign notes:
Republicans responded with a two-front approach. Leaders like Ronna McDaniel, Republican National Committee chairwoman, encouraged candidates to quickly “move on” from abortion to other issues that were better for Republicans. Republican leaders begged candidates to avoid rigorous antiabortion positions without exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. “Stakeout common ground with a majority of Americans who support exceptions,” read a September memo from the Republican National Committee, a sentiment Trump echoed at his rallies.

The party then focused on giving the nation something else to talk about.
"Something else to talk about" meant inflation and -- when their focus groups told them it was on voters' minds -- crime. That worked for many of them.

And now we turn to the man every Republican thinks has it all figured out, Ron DeSantis. He largely avoided talking about abortion. He also avoided election-denialist talk, although he campaigned for quite a few denialists. Between now and 2024, I think the party will try to keep a lid on talk of sweeping abortion bans and, as much as possible, attacks on the electoral process. (Anger on the latter subject will be very difficult to contain, of course.)

But they'll also follow DeSantis's lead on other culture-war issues. They'll conclude that fearmongering about critical race thory worked in his race and in Glenn Youngkin's race in 2021, so it must be a good national issue. They'll keep attacking trans people and LGBTQ books in school libraries, because DeSantis does. Maybe they'll try to squeeze a few more drops of outrage out of the pandemic, though I don't know how that can continue to be an issue by 2024, which will be years after the last few restrictions disappeared in most of America.

Anti-CRT and anti-LGBTQ extremism are opportunities for Democrats to focus 2024 voters on the "broader narrative of Republican extremism," but they require Democrats to try to engender empathy in white moderate voters in a way that the abortion issue doesn't. So the extremism will be harder -- but not impossible -- to rally the liberal and moderate electorate around.

Maybe the cruelty of DeSantis's extremism (and the extremism of other comfortably elected Republican governors) will reach new depths -- I hope not, but if it does, perhaps it will be easier to raise the alarm among non-GOP voters. Maybe the face of the GOP will be not DeSantis but Jim Jordan and a series of endless House witch hunts (along with a few moments of global-economy-threatening budget brinkmanship). And maybe the widely disliked Trump will win back the spotlight, or never really cede it to DeSantis or congressional Republicans.

But the GOP plan will be to downplay abortion (and, if possible, the Big Lie) while playing up DeSantis's cultural obsessions. Be ready for this. The 2024 election won't be fought over the same set of issues as the 2022 election.

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