Against murder-suicide politics
Don't threaten to tank elections to get your way
Backlash to the Dobbs decision transformed the 2022 midterms, and protecting abortion rights continues to be one of Democrats’ strongest issues for 2024 — especially if they can link it to a broader message about health care. Democrats want women to have access to contraceptives before they get pregnant, they want them to have both abortion rights and prenatal coverage if they become pregnant, and they want their children to have health care after they’re born. Republicans want none of those things.
It’s a strong, compelling message, and if Democrats could make that the most salient issue in 2024, they’d win a lot of races.
Republicans, because they are pretty smart, are disinclined to cooperate with this.
You won’t see Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, or any of the dozens of people running for Speaker of the House talking about how they would like to enact a nationwide ban on abortion. You also don’t see back-bench Republicans talking about how since there will never be 60 votes for a national abortion ban, they need to get people to promise to overturn the filibuster in order to accomplish this.
Now to be clear, this doesn’t mean there are no abortion stakes in 2024. Republicans will go as far as they can to restrict abortion rights, which might turn out to be pretty far when you consider things like FDA authority over mifepristone or the fact that some rogue district court judge anywhere in the country could hold that a blastocyst is a person under the meaning of the 14th Amendment. But note that while these things are unpopular, nobody in the GOP field is talking about them. And that’s not just strategic discipline on the part of the candidates. When Donald Trump was refusing to concede the election, Fox News made an initial effort to weigh-in against him, but they immediately started losing market share to Newsmax and OANN. By contrast, Fox is not pushing Republicans to talk about banning abortion, and Fox’s competitors on the right aren’t either. There is a lot of nuttiness roiling Republican Party politics, but there is ecosystem-wide cooperation with the post-2022 strategy of trying to reduce the salience of abortion in national politics, even while working to ban it any time a legislative majority to do so exists.
And a fascinating thing about all of this is that anti-abortion groups — even though they are staffed and funded by people who believe with 100 percent sincerity that legal abortion is a plague of infanticide — are perfectly happy to go along with this pragmatic strategy of trying as hard as possible to win.
The turnout tanking threat
I’m really working hard to minimize the quantity of Israel/Palestine content on this blog, but it happens to be providing an interesting contrast right now. The Biden administration’s approach has been somewhat more hawkish and pro-Israel than my personal convictions, but that seems broadly in line with American public opinion, which is sympathetic to Israel and very unsympathetic to the Palestinians. And my whole schtick over the past three years has been to urge Democrats to be more open to acting like this on a broad suite of issues — when marriage equality was unpopular, Democrats were against it, but when advocates succeeded in making it popular, Democrats embraced the cause.
But a notable aspect of current discourse is pro-Palestinian activists and their allies “warning” (but really, I think, threatening) that voters who are to Biden’s left on this topic won’t turn out in 2024 and that will throw the election to Trump.
This is important because it’s a general feature of how progressive activists have thought about politics over the past eight years and it helps explain a lot of Democrats’ conduct during this period. I’ve written several times about the mobilization delusion, the myth that a secret stash of hyper-progressive nonvoters is ready to surge to the polls if only Democrats shift to the left. But a very non-mythical thing is that if left-wing thought-leaders tell highly engaged progressives not to vote for the lesser of two evils, they can probably succeed in tanking turnout and throwing the election to Republicans.
In practice, this is what I think a lot of progressive activism has amounted to: Donors fund groups that are completely ineffective at mobilizing non-voters or persuading swing voters but can credibly threaten to actively discourage people from voting, and then they use these murder-suicide threats to extract policy concessions.
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