Democrats Just Missed Another Huge Opportunity
Democrats had yet another good night on Tuesday with key legislative and gubernatorial victories that will help push the progressive agenda forward. In particular, voters in several states, most notably Ohio and Michigan, elected to enshrine women’s reproductive rights into their state’s constitutions. Given the dark cloud that has loomed over women’s autonomy in a free-functioning society ever since the Dobbs decision removed the basic protections to a safe and legal abortion granted by Roe vs. Wade, this certainly seems like a triumphant victory for women across the nation. But as much as I might want to break out my bejewleled elevator boots and party like its 1999 to celebrate a crucial victory for the personal freedoms of women across the nation, I can’t help thinking that Democrats once again screwed the pooch here and wasted yet another precious opportunity to out-scheme Republicans heading into a pivotal presidential race in 2024.
Do you folks remember Karl Rove? In case that name doesn’t ring a bell, think for a moment of the human equivalent of a walking slab of Spam on a stick, except that nobody wants to eat Karl Rove. This Republican strategist had all the warm fuzziness of personality of a months-old lump of fruitcake, but when it came to plotting pathways to electoral victories when none should exist, the man was, admittedly, pure diabolical genius. After all, Rove represented a Republican Party whose primary economic agenda was cutting taxes for the Uber-wealthy at the expense of the far more numerous lower and middle classes. Numbers just weren’t on his side, but he somehow got George W. Bush elected- twice. Cognizant that fiscal conservatism favouring an elite few wasn’t a winning strategy for national elections, Rove grasped the need to join forces with social conservatives by convincing them to vote against their own economic interest. He reinvigorated the Republican Party by moving the focus onto social issues and thus drawing in Evangelical Christians into the party. But it wasn’t enough to just bring them into the fold; he needed to get them out to the polls.
That’s where Rove’s masterstroke was finally put into place. In 2004, Rove knew that Bush was facing an uphill climb to re-election after an unpopular war and record-low approval numbers. Looking to avoid W. becoming the first one-term President since his father in 1992, Rove realised that Republicans had one issue in their back pockets that they had to use to their advantage. Believe it or not, back in 2004, gay marriage was still widely unpopular, with a significant majority of Americans opposed to same-sex unions. But the sagacity of Rove’s strategy came in recognizing not just their opposition to gay marriage, but that their hate and intolerance would drive them to the polls in record numbers. Single issue voters show up in droves when those issues are on the ballot. In 2004, Republicans put anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot in several key battleground states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah. Voters turned out in record numbers to pass those initiatives and thus push Bush over the cusp to victory. As Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote, “In 2004, Republicans used ballot initiatives barring same‐ sex marriage to spur turnout among their conservative voters. That strategy helped then‐President George W. Bush win reelection.” In other words, Republicans saw an issue that would drive their voters to the polls and used it to win an election. Democrats need to do the same thing.
While the Dobbs decision made it necessary for Democrats to do whatever it takes to safeguard the reproductive rights of women across the country, they also have to see that abortion is a winning issue for them that they can avail themselves of to retain the Presidency in 2024. Poll after poll shows that Americans favour abortion rights by a wide margin, with most data suggesting a number close to 65% supporting legal access to abortion until the point of viability of the fetus. Even in a state as conservative and Bible-y as Kansas, where even Jesus can’t get a simple drink of wine, 59% of residents in 2022 voted to protect a woman’s right to an abortion up until 22 weeks of pregnancy. The margin was even higher on Tuesday when voters in Ohio and Michigan enacted provisions to the state constitution that would ensure female reproductive autonomy. But the political opportunity here doesn’t just come from the fact that Democrats are on the winning side of the abortion issue; it comes from the momentum this issue generates to drive Democratic voters to the polls.
Ohio saw a record voter turnout for an election without any Presidential or Gubernatorial consequences. More Michiganders voted Tuesday than the total number of people who participated in the 2018 midterm election. What made folks show up during these off-election years? Abortion rights. Apparently, granting women the right to do what they choose with their own bodies matters to people. And they show up to vote to prove it.
But as much as I am overjoyed to see women garner some much-needed safeguards amidst a sea of uncertainty created in the wake of the Dobbs decision, the truth is that Democrats should have been taking advantage of this issue when it matters most: the 2024 Presidential election. Recent polls have Biden behind Trump by 2 to 3 points in a hypothetical rematch that is beginning to look inevitable. The gap is even wider in key battleground states that Biden won in securing the 2020 election. These are states he needs to win if he is to win re-election in 2024 and stave off Armageddon in the form of a second Trump presidency. Democrats should have followed the Rove strategy and kept abortion rights initiatives for 2024 rather than putting them on the ballot in an election year with nothing else on the line. Democrats need to avail themselves of an issue that can help drive left-leaning voters to the polls and carry Biden to victory. The good news is that abortion rights are already slated for the ballot in Maryland and New York for 2024. Now is the time to get it on the ballot in every other state to remind women which candidate (and party) wants to grab them by the pussy, or more specifically, the uterus.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com