Today, the Republican base is very different from anything I’ve ever seen in American politics before. A large and increasing number have given up on democracy, supports political violence, exhibits a willingness to ignore the rule of law to win political power and believes in untrue conspiracy theories. Many also yearn for the apocalypse. A friend of mine in Paris, concerned about the dangers of Trumpism, sent me this short clip today, under the subject line, “the kind of person who votes Republican.” Another old friend, this one in Amsterdam, warned me about MAGA-Mike Johnson. Apparently he’s getting a lot of press in Holland, mostly not favorable.
Chauncey DeVega interviewed Robert Jones, founder and president of the Public Religion Research Institute about the group’s new American Values Survey and Jones told him that “Three-quarters of Americans believe that the future of democracy is at stake in the 2024 presidential election. It's one of the few things that Republicans and Democrats agree on, 84% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans. Now, of course, they mean very different things in terms of their concerns about ‘democracy.’ …[T]he deeper disagreement, coupled with deep divides about the country's identity. Who are we? Who is the country for? Who counts as a ‘real American?’ These deeper disagreements, rather than policy differences, are driving our partisan divisions… What does Trump mean by MAGA, ‘Make America Great Again?’ It is nostalgia for some a mythical past ‘golden age.’ They want a return to 1950s America when White Christians were the unquestioned dominant force in the country. Conservative white Christians want that America back… White evangelicals support Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and his anti-black rhetoric and all those related racial grievance issues. They were breathing comfortably and freely when they pulled the lever for Trump in both 2016 and 2020.”
“There is a real belief in Apocalypticism,” continued Jones, “among conservative white Christians, specifically, and white conservatives and the right, more broadly. That is very much tied to changing demographics: we are no longer a majority white Christian country, and we were just 20 years ago. That has set off a visceral reaction, and a kind of panic among conservative White Christians in particular. As I document in The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy, most white evangelicals sincerely believe that God designated America to be a promised land for white European Christians. That is not a joke to them. If a person sincerely believes such a thing and the country is changing and is not in agreement with that vision, it opens the door to political extremism and violence to secure that outcome. Many conservative White Christians truly believe that they have a divine mandate and entitlement to the country. The historical record clearly shows that white evangelicals have long had an instrumental, rather than principled, relationship to democracy. As long as there were super majorities of White Christian people in the country, they could pay lip service to the principles of democracy knowing that they had sheer numbers that would guarantee an outcome in their favor. But when democratic processes were unlikely to uphold white Christian power, they historically supported all manner of anti-democratic practices, including white racial terrorism, slavery, segregation, severe voter suppression, and gerrymandering. With the continuing decline of white Christians as a demographic group, these attempts by White conservatives and their allies to undermine democracy are just more obvious and unrestrained, as seen on Jan. 6 for example… Mike Johnson is a white Christian nationalist in a tailored suit. He believes that America is a promised land for white European Christians and that protecting that reality and future is above everything else. Johnson is deeply steeped in that white Christian nationalist worldview, which also includes not believing in the separation of church and state. Behind Johnson's polished public persona is a fairly extreme kind of vision of a white Christian America and a willingness to make the country fit that reality. And that includes overturning an election, such as on Jan. 6, which Johnson supported.”
So… today, polarized Americans have important elections in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Mississippi, Texas… all around the country. How important is the abortion issue going to be? Well, though there’s a pot legalization amendment on the ballot as well (and that is important to some people), the abortion issue is what’s driving a massive turnout in Ohio. More than double the number of people who availed themselves of early voting in 2021 and 2019 in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) have availed themselves of that opportunity as of Sunday, the last day of early voting. The county Board of Election expects that by tonight between 40 and 45% of voters will have cast ballots, compared to 27% in 2021 and 29% in 2019.
A recent statewide poll of registered voters shows the abortion amendment winning 58-34% (8% undecided). The same poll showed that every demographic (except self-identified Republicans) felt that restricting abortion access discriminates against women. Daniel McGraw reminded his Bulwark readers yesterday that abortion is a powerful and motivating issue and that since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade last year “six states— California, Montana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Vermont— have voted on protecting or expanding abortion access. Every one of those efforts has won… To understand how Democrats might attempt to leverage the issue into big advantages nationally and statewide in 2024, it’s important first to remember that women voters outnumber men by lot— a 53-47 percent margin in the 2020 election, meaning that nearly 10 million more women voted for president than men did. Think about how that skew could play out with abortion rights on the table. Trump won Florida over Biden by 3.4 percent—roughly 370,000 votes. But about 600,000 more women than men voted in Florida, and this was before the Dobbs ruling. Just getting some of those women to switch this time around would make things a lot closer. In swing states— think Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, and Wisconsin— women coming out in favor of the Democrats more than they did in 2020 will have a measurable impact. But it doesn’t stop there. With abortion at least symbolically on the ballot in the November 2024 presidential race, states like Minnesota and Vermont may have a much tougher time going from blue to red (as Republicans hope) and states like Florida and Texas may conceivably be closer to flippable (as Democrats dream). Trump might even have to campaign in Florida and Texas, something Republicans certainly don’t want to have to do.”
Of the fifteen most populous counties in Ohio, which contained 63 percent of the state’s registered voters in 2020, Biden won all of the six biggest and Trump won all of the next nine biggest. But in this past August’s special election—which, again, the electorate knew was ultimately about abortion—the proposal endorsed by the anti-abortion side won in just three of those nine Trump counties. In the rest of the Trump counties among the biggest fifteen, the measure failed. In most cases, it wasn’t even a close call.
You can easily envision a similar flip taking place in a Trump stronghold state. Lake County, a middle-class bellwether county just east of Cleveland (with a population of about 230,000) that is normally MAGA central, is a classic example. In 2020, Lake County voted 56 to 42 percent for Trump. For the special election in Aug., Lake County voted against the Republican-backed initiative by 59 to 41 percent.
The anti-government-interference, pro-privacy position could prove effective in moving voters away from Republicans in places across the country with profiles like Lake County. Consider an op-ed published in the Columbus Dispatch last week, written by four Ohio pediatricians representing the group Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights:
What Issue 1 will do is get government out of Ohioans’ personal medical decisions and protect our and other physicians’ ability to provide appropriate treatment for patients and their families.
And that sort of summarizes things. The longstanding tension between the Republicans who were more socially conservative and those who were more libertarian was subsumed by the party’s transformation into a personality cult for Donald Trump. But the tension is still there, in the background. And if abortion is on the ballot in some swing states across the country in November 2024, the more libertarian-minded, skeptical-of-government, pro-privacy Republicans could prove pivotal to the outcome.
The Philadelphia Inquirer predicted that “the most expensive state Supreme Court race to date will be a test study in whether abortion remains a motivating issue for voters. Which party comes out on top in suburban areas like Bucks and Chester Counties could foreshadow the political climate in 2024… Democrats see abortion rights as a coalescing issue. Campaigns, along with outside groups, have poured millions into putting the topic at the center of Tuesday’s Supreme Court race. The outcome could be an early test of that strategy. Republican Carolyn Carluccio and Democrat Dan McCaffery are vying for the open seat vacated after the death of Chief Justice Max Baer in October 2022. Since then, the 4-2 Democratic-majority bench has deadlocked on a number of decisions, including mail ballot rulings— setting up the winner of the race to become a deciding vote in important election law cases. The court has also heard cases related to state abortion law. Democrats have attacked Carluccio for receiving the endorsement of two Pennsylvania anti-abortion associations, and for removing her résumé from her campaign website where she summarized herself as a defender of ‘all life under the law.’ Planned Parenthood’s political arm ran a seven-figure TV ad buy against her suggesting she can’t be trusted to protect abortion rights. Carluccio has declined to give her personal opinion on abortion. She told The Inquirer last month: ‘My personal opinion has absolutely no place in this. The law in Pennsylvania is very clear that a woman has a right to choose up to 24 weeks. I will follow that law.’”
In Virginia, the issue of Choice may well decide which party controls the state legislature. With Glenn Youngkin, an anti-Choice governor in Richmond, it is essential that Democrats maintain their slim majority in the state Senate and take back a majority in the House of Delegates. If the Republicans gain control of the state Senate and maintain control of the House, Youngkin has pledged to implement a 15 week ban on abortions.
And next door in Kentucky, they’ll be electing a governor in a beet red state Trump won in two landslides, 62.5% to 32.7% against Hillary and 62.1% to 36.1% against Biden. 4 years ago, though, then-Attorney General Andy Beshear ousted Republican Governor Matt Bevin 709,846 (49.2%) to 704,760 (48.8%). Where both Hillary and Biden won just 2 counties, Beshear won 23. Abortion will be a factor today because the MAGA candidate, Attorney General Daniel Cameron is all in on banning abortion while Beshear says the state’s ban is extreme because he doesn’t allow exceptions for rape and incest. He already banned a GOP bill banning abprtion after 15 weeks (the Youngkin plan).
In Mississippi Democrat Brandon Presley is anti-Choice, just like a Republican and is unlikely to win despite being related to Elvis-- even if he's the lesser evil on most other issues.