This is likely to be New Republic Day here at NewDonkey, given some interesting new stuff up on its site, along with the news that the venerable mag has been bought by a Canadian media firm that is presumably disconnected from its previous owners’ ideological shibboleths. More about all that later.But first up, I wanted to draw attention to a TNR Online debate over Rudy Giuliani’s viability as a candidate and as a potential president, involving two friends of mine: former American Prospect editor Mike Tomasky, and the New York polymath Fred Siegel, who wrote an admiring but not uncritical book about Rudy a few years ago. Up first, Tomasky focuses his Rudy-skeptic case (which I share) on Giuliani’s position on abortion, which is formally pro-choice but with lots of winks and nods indicating that he would make Supreme Court appointments guaranteed to doom Roe v. Wade.In passing, Tomasky says that Republicans have not “nominated a pro-choice candidate since Gerry Ford in 1976.”That raises a very interesting and pertinent question: among Republicans, what passes for a “pro-choice” position, and what doesn’t? Ford actually supported a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade, and return abortion policy to the states. He did not, however (unlike his primary challenger Ronald Reagan) support the Human Life Amendment, which would have leapfrogged both the Supreme Court and the 50 states to endow human embryos, from the moment of conception, with “personhood” under the 14th Amendment.More than thirty years later, while support for a Human Life Amendment remains formally the position of virtually all anti-abortion groups, and of the Republican Party as expressed in its national platforms, nobody’s really serious about it. When Bob Dole said he didn’t feel bound by that platform plank in 1996, it created a lot of controversy on the Right. When George W. Bush said much the same thing in 2000 and 2004, it was regarded as something of a truism. Aside from the political and practical impossibility of the HLA, what changed, of course, was a significant enhancement of a non-constitutional, non-legislative strategy for overturning Roe: simply stacking the Supreme Court with “strict constructionists” who would perform a constitutional counter-revolution.Thanks to Bush’s SCOTUS appointments, right-to-lifers and their opponents think they may be one or two High Court appointments away from that fateful day. The big question now is whether the Bush message to social conservatives–I’m with you, but not vocally; and I’ll get it done indirectly through Court appointments–can be successfully replaced by the Giuliani message–I’m not with you, but not vocally; and I’ll also get it done indirectly through Court appointments.So for Rudy and his handlers, the big gamble is the hope that social conservatives have “matured” enough to accept a Republican nominee who will not even pay their formal positions the kind of lip-service they’ve grown to expect, in exchange for another GOP president who might give them what they actually, realistically want. And the X-factor here is that Rudy’s rather spotted ideological history (at least from the point of view of the Right) may require more explicit assurances to social conservatives that will make this whole double game unsustainable in a general election campaign.I hope this particular issue–a critical subset of Giuliani’s entire political case for nomination and election as president–continues to get serious attention in the Mike-versus-Fred debate as it rolls out.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
In looking at the trajectory of the 2022 midterms, I noted at New York a theory that suggests we’d better get used to close elections that defy history:
With six weeks to go until Election Day, the midterms aren’t unfolding as we all expected earlier this year, when Republicans were better than even money to retake the Senate and a lead-pipe cinch to flip the House by a substantial margin. There are, of course, plenty of reasons you can cite for this change in the political climate, from the backlash to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to somewhat better economic news to Donald Trump’s continued presence on the campaign trail to bad GOP-candidate selection. It’s nerve-racking, of course, because with Democrats holding the slightest of majorities in both congressional chambers, very small micro-trends in just a few states or districts could have enormous consequences for the parties and for the country (the consequences extend, of course, to state-level positions, not just governors but election-supervising secretaries of State).
“In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck write that American politics has become more polarized and calcified. Events and the responses to them from politicians no longer have the ability to deeply and fundamentally reshape our politics or political coalitions. ‘Voters and leaders in the two major parties are not only more ideologically distant from each other but also more likely to describe each other in harsh terms,’ they write. ‘In the fall of 2020, 90 percent of Americans said there were important differences in what the parties stood for — the highest number recorded in almost 70 years of American National Election Study surveys.’
“Moreover, they write, voters are ‘less likely to change their basic political evaluations or vote for the other party’s candidate.’ This calcification of our partisanship ‘produces rigidity in our politics — even when dramatic events suggest the potential for big changes.’
“In other words, if every election is an existential fight, then every election will be close. Or, as the Democratic strategist told me, ‘notably competitive.’”
If true, this would mean not only fewer “persuadable” swing voters to produce big shifts in the results from election to election, but likely a reduction in the sorts of “enthusiasm gaps” thought to affect partisan turnout patterns in the past. Elections would be more like a series of huge pre-mobilized armies meeting in a series of huge clashes with no prisoners taken (and little cooperation across party lines between elections). Even if that’s an exaggeration of the degree of gridlock from which our government and our electorate is suffering, we might truly be entering a period in which swings in party voting are limited. And as Sides, Tausanovitch, and Vavreck note, the “calcification” of party and ideological divisions can become self-perpetuating:
“Calcified politics and partisan parity combine to produce a self-reinforcing cycle. When control of government is always within reach, there is less need for the losing party to adapt and recalibrate. And if it stays on the same path, voters have little reason to revise their political loyalties.”
To be clear, very close elections can have variable outcomes. And in our winner-take-all system, the stakes will remain high. It will obviously make a great deal of difference which party wins the White House in 2024. Control of the Senate, moreover, depends as much on near-accidents of landscape than on the overall voting strength of the two parties, since only one-third of senators face voters each cycle. Democrats are benefiting from a modestly positive Senate landscape this year. Republicans should have a big Senate advantage in 2024. There is no guarantee either party can muster a governing “trifecta” in the future. As Republicans learned in 2017–18 and Democrats have learned in 2021–22, a trifecta isn’t all that if you can’t rigidly discipline all your troops all the time.
When white-knuckle time arrives just before Election Day this year, the odds are pretty good there will remain a lot of uncertainty about exactly what will happen when the votes are all counted (assuming we can get bipartisan buy-in on the results as officially certified, which is hardly a safe assumption at present). If Democrats managed to hold onto both congressional chambers, they may well feel vindicated by voters and go on to undertake an ambitious agenda in the next two years. More likely we will have a return to divided government and even more uncertainty and gridlock as we enter still another momentous election cycle.