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Friday Talking Points -- The Midterm Ground Shifts In Two Big Ways

[ Posted Friday, August 5th, 2022 – 16:37 UTC ]

There were two major events in politics this week which will have a profound effect on the upcoming midterm campaigns. The first was the stunning victory in the Kansas primary of the anti-forced-birth position on an abortion referendum -- which passed with a jaw-dropping 59-41 percent margin in a very red state. The second was Senate Democrats finally achieving unity by all agreeing to the "Inflation Reduction Act" budget reconciliation bill. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has refused to let the Senate begin their month-long August vacation and is planning the first vote on the bill tomorrow, with all the other arcane floor events to follow, so the final passage could come early next week.

Both of these events will resonate throughout the campaign and upcoming elections, but at this point nobody really knows how big a factor either will actually be. Passing the reconciliation bill will mean that Democrats can now tout a rather impressive list of accomplishments they have been able to rack up during their time in power in Congress, which will now include: "capping Medicare drug costs for seniors at $2,000 per year," "allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the big prescription drug corporations to finally start to bring the cost of prescriptions down," "finally making gigantic corporations pay a minimum tax so we can stop hearing about Amazon or any other big company paying zero taxes each year," and "making the biggest commitment to fight climate change ever made." All of these are wildly popular with the public, and all of them are impressive achievements to brag about. And that's just from the new reconciliation bill alone -- there are plenty of other wins Democrats have put on the board since Joe Biden was sworn in as president.

The abortion issue is likely to resonate more with the voters, however, and the Kansas vote already has Republicans running scared. It's easy to see why. The New York Times ran the data to figure out how the rest of the country would vote, if the demographic trends from the Kansas vote were replicated in each state across the country. They found that nationwide, a whopping 65 percent of voters would vote a referendum down that was intended to deny women reproductive rights. The state-level data was even more unforgiving to the absolutist position many Republican politicians have been taking -- such a referendum would fail in 43 out of 50 states. The only states where a majority of voters would back a forced-birth ballot initiative are: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. If this analysis played out, a whole lot of deep-red states would actually vote such a measure down, though, including: Idaho, South Carolina, West Virginia, and even Texas. That is why Republicans are hastily rethinking the advisability of taking the hardest line on abortion laws. Again: the measure in Kansas was voted down by 59 percent of a very red electorate.

It wasn't just that Democrats turned out in a primary that usually only sees mostly Republicans voting. There weren't any big races on the Democratic Party ballot -- the sitting Democratic governor waltzed into her re-nomination without a serious challenger. And Kansas has a closed primary system, meaning that independent voters normally have nothing to vote for in the primaries -- since they have no party affiliation, there are no party nomination contests for them to vote on. And there are more independent voters (29 percent of registered voters) than there are Democrats (26 percent) in the state. Independents were allowed to vote this year, but the only thing on their ballot was the referendum. And they showed up in far larger numbers than usual. But even with all that, the truly important thing is that the Republican vote against the referendum was also a lot higher than anyone expected -- rough figures seem to indicate that around one-fifth of Republican voters voted "No." So Republicans can't even count on their base on the issue, they can't count on independents, and the Democrats are absolutely fired up over the issue.

Which is why some Republicans have now started to back away from the absolutist positions they very recently were espousing:

Republican candidates, facing a stark reality check from Kansas voters, are softening their once-uncompromising stands against abortion as they move toward the general election, recognizing that strict bans are unpopular and that the issue may be a major driver in the fall campaigns.

In swing states and even conservative corners of the country, several Republicans have shifted their talk on abortion bans, newly emphasizing support for exceptions. Some have noticeably stopped discussing details at all. Pitched battles in Republican-dominated state legislatures have broken out now that the Supreme Court has made what has long been a theoretical argument a reality.

GOP consultants are now advising that Republican candidates somehow counter the fully-correct impression that their party is extremist, the article goes on to say:

They have started advising Republicans to endorse bans that allow exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest or those that threaten the life of the mother. They have told candidates to emphasize care for women during and after their pregnancies.

That last bit is rather amusing, since Republicans are almost universally against paying one thin dime for the care of women during and after pregnancy, and plenty of Republicans are for banning exceptions for rape or incest. In other words, their only strategy is to lie, lie big, and hope no one notices. Which is exactly what they tried in Kansas, as a matter of fact. Text messages were sent out just before the vote which (falsely) stated that: "Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women's health." In fact, the opposite was true. And the voters were not fooled.

On the other side of the issue, voters are angry. And not just Democratic voters. The article also points out:

But the reality on the campaign trail is different. Sarah Longwell, a Republican pollster, said in her focus groups that swing voters do bring up inflation and the economy when asked what issues are on their minds. But when prompted to discuss abortion, real passion flares. That indicates that if Democrats can prosecute a campaign to keep the issue front and center, they will find an audience, she said.

Got that? "Real passion flares." And that's just with swing voters. Democrats are even more enraged. This could wind up being the key to motivating Democratic voters to actually turn out in November, because it will be the first time (for everyone outside of Kansas) that they will be able to register their disapproval of the Supreme Court's action. It will specifically motivate young voters -- a group notorious for seldom showing up in midterm elections. And it will also enormously help Democrats continue to siphon voters (especially, but not limited to, women voters) away from voting Republicans in the suburbs. Suburban moms are not exactly happy that their daughters might enjoy fewer rights than they did, and that's putting it mildly.

This is why Republicans are so frightened. Here were the statements from the two Republican Kansas senators, after the primary votes were counted:

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.): "It was a quite a gut punch. Yes, I'm shocked, absolutely shocked. But regardless, I respect the process.... That's not what I was expecting, not what I was told the polling showed, and I thought it was gonna be a tight race. But it is what it is. And, again, I respect the process. I don't have an explanation."

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.): "You know, it's a divisive issue. People and across the country have various points of view on this topic and voters of Kansas decided.... I never can predict elections. I never know how they're going to turn out."

Some Republicans are refusing to face this reality, and instead are trying to spin the Kansas results as some sort of win for them. But smart Republicans are reading the Jayhawk tea leaves and realizing that now the onus is on them to accurately define what it means to be (as they like to put it) "pro-life." Does their fealty to the fetus mean that the life of the mother is secondary, if there is medical risk? Does it mean fatherhood rights for rapists? Does it mean a young preteen raped by a relative will be forced to carry her baby to term? Does it mean a pregnant woman can claim the fetus on her taxes as a dependent (which, in Georgia, it now does)? There are all sorts of legal implications that have barely been touched upon yet since the Supreme Court threw the question out into the wilds of state legislatures, and Republicans now are going to have to answer for the outcome of their Draconian forced-birth laws. Some of which will be tragic and revolting to the average voter (like forcing a 10-year-old rape victim to give birth).

This is a winning issue for Democrats for two reasons. The first is that the public is already on their side. Even in Kansas. The second is that aforementioned "passion" that the issue raises with voters. This is real, although until this week it had flown beneath most of the media's radar. People are angry about losing the protections of Roe. They are motivated to show this anger in the voting booth. And it has fast become an issue that supersedes all other political issues for a growing share of the electorate. A lot of "single-issue voters" will be voting in November, to put it another way. Many Democrats running for office are already putting it front and center in their campaigns, and this trend will likely quickly grow after the stunning Kansas results. Republicans trying to get elected to swing House districts are already backpedalling and in a defensive crouch. Because even if they swore they were moderate and favored rape and incest exceptions, all a Democrat has to point out is that if the Republicans take control of Congress, they will pass a nationwide abortion ban which would end abortion rights even in blue states. This irrefutable charge is why Republicans are in a defensive crouch.

The political landscape was already getting better for Democrats, as Republican voters have nominated some awfully weak Senate candidates in more than one battleground state, and tapping into that passion on the abortion issue is only going to increase this trend. Which is very good news indeed.

Other good news that will wind up helping Democrats: President Biden was right -- we are not in a recession, as the 528,000 new jobs added last month proved. The unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent, which matches the record low (set right before the COVID-19 pandemic began) for the past 50 years. And, best of all, gas prices have now fallen more than 90 cents from the peak they hit at the beginning of the summer. And with crude oil prices continuing to drop, the price at the pump should continue to fall. It could slip below a nationwide average of $4 a gallon next week, and the majority of gas stations across the country are selling gas for cheaper than that already. This should also cause the inflation numbers to start coming down, but we won't know that until later in the month.

Let's just quickly run down all the other political news of the week before we get to the awards, shall we?

In foreign policy news, the Senate approved the expansion of NATO to Sweden and Finland, in response to Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine. The vote was almost unanimous, but Rand Paul (a foreign policy crank and isolationist) voted "Present," and Josh Hawley (who is just a garden-variety schmuck) voted "No."

The man who might best be described as "Osama Bin Laden's partner in crime (and terrorism)" -- Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the co-founder of Al Qaeda -- was killed by a C.I.A. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. Even Republicans had to grudgingly offer up some praise for President Biden's approval of this strike (which was so amazingly precise and limited it didn't even kill anyone else in the house).

Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, becoming the first speaker of the House to do so in a quarter-century (Newt Gingrich was the last one to do so). She wrote an article for the Washington Post explaining her reasons for her visit, since she faced a whole lot of pearl-clutching inside the Beltway over her trip.

The ultra-conservative group CPAC had an Eastern European racist autocrat speak at their recent convention, shortly after he had given a speech railing against Europe becoming "mixed race." One of his own advisors quit in protest of this speech, quite accurately calling it "pure Nazi," but CPAC was just fine having him speak to their gathering.

Speaking of odious speech, Alex Jones just got shamed in court, committed obvious perjury multiple times, and learned while testifying that his lawyers had inadvertently given the plaintiffs' lawyers the entire record of everything on his phone for the past two years. This was before the jury came back with a $4 million dollar decision against him for his vicious slander of the parents of the small children killed in the Sandy Hook school massacre. Jones made a lot of money convincing people that the whole incident was somehow a hoax, and he is finally having to make restitution for his vile lies. And the punitive damages part of the trial is yet to come, so he could wind up paying a lot more than just $4 million. [Breaking news: the punitive award is now in, and Jones will have to pay an additional $45 million.]

Oh, and the House Select Committee on January 6th is now interested in seeing all those texts and other phone data, which the plaintiffs' lawyer seems happy to provide to them, so there's that to look forward to as well.

Speaking of phones, it was revealed this week that top Pentagon officials also had their phone data wiped just after the January 6th insurrection attempt. Gee, it's starting to look like a giant cover-up! Who ever could have guessed?

And to end on a highly amusing note, the satirist-in-residence at the Washington Post is back on the job after her maternity leave, and has resumed cranking out hilarious copy once again. This week she wrote about Andrew Yang's new third party, "Forward," and absolutely skewered him for the vacuity of his announcement. One sample line: "Instead of a specific party, we are just the principle of a party. We are not a party of ideas; we are the idea of a party." The whole thing is well worth reading, if you need a laugh this week....

 

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We're not entire sure he qualifies for this award, since he was acting in a truly nonpartisan manner, but we find that we do not care -- we are going to award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week to Jon Stewart. After all, we went ahead and awarded him an Honorable Mention last week, right?

Last week, we honored Stewart for his valiant efforts to pass a bill that would have automatically helped veterans who had become sick after being exposed to the notorious toxic "burn pits" in Afghanistan and Iraq. We also honored him for his scathingly righteous anger directed at the Republican senators who had decided to play politics with veterans' lives. But even we never expected Stewart to be this effective.

Early this week, the Republicans caved. They realized, after getting beaten up on television by Stewart over and over again (on any show that would have him, which was quite a few of them) for their disgraceful behavior. So they stopped their pathetically weak attempts at lying about what was in the bill (that they had previously voted for) and threw in the towel. After an amendment from Senator Pat Toomey failed (an amendment which was ostensibly designed to "fix" the non-existent problem with the bill), Republicans voted en masse to support veterans after all. The vote was 86-11, which is what it should have been a week earlier, when 25 Republicans switched their votes to "No."

As we wrote earlier this week, Stewart did the seemingly-impossible in today's political word: he successfully shamed Republican politicians. This was astounding, because the entire Republican Party in the Trumpian era seems to have moved to a place where they are absolutely beyond shame. Stewart showed that this wasn't quite true, especially when the lives of veterans were the core issue -- an issue it is very hard to stake out a political position against.

Since the bill had already passed the House, it went straight to President Biden's desk after the Senate passed it. To change the official title would have required another vote in the House, but at least informally, this law should now rightfully be called: "The Jon Stewart's Righteous Anger Act," or something similar.

For effecting this stunning turnaround, for actually proving that shame can still work against some Republicans, for having no political weapon at all but his righteous scorn (which he used masterfully), and for all the veterans' lives that will be improved as a direct result, Jon Stewart is truly the only possible choice for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week.

[John Stewart is technically a private citizen, and it is our standing policy not to provide contact information for such persons, so you'll have to look his contact info up yourself if you'd like to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Senator Kyrsten Sinema is currently being lauded, after she demanded (and got) her pound of flesh from the deal Joe Manchin had previously struck with Chuck Schumer on the Inflation Reduction Act bill. But there's really nothing praiseworthy about her performance.

What it was all about (as usual, for Sinema) was two things: ego and money. She was reportedly miffed that she hadn't been included in the Manchin/Schumer negotiations. After all, she is just as capable as Manchin of shooting down most of Joe Biden's (and all the rest of the Democratic Party's) agenda, right? To rectify this snub, she forced a negotiation of her own.

That's the ego part. The money part is what she fought for in this negotiation. She killed a proposal to reduce (not even to eliminate!) the gigantic loophole that hedge fund managers use to pay roughly half the income tax rate that any regular employee of any business anywhere pays. This was unthinkable to Sinema, who has sworn to uphold all the Trump tax cuts -- giant loopholes and all! -- and not budge an inch on any income tax changes to even the wealthiest of the wealthy. She also fought for an as-yet-unspecified change to the 15 percent corporate minimum tax that Manchin and Schumer agreed to. Manchin actually feels strongly about this, and he expressed confusion as to why Sinema would be against making gigantic corporations pay at least something towards their fair share of the tax burden. But that didn't stop Sinema, who will do the bidding of any of the wealthy donors she bends over backwards to court. Sinema did apparently agree to a small tax on corporations buying back their own stock, which is indeed a step forward for the tax code, but her refusal to equitably tax millionaires working on Wall Street was so odious it overshadowed this concession.

We've long said it -- we are convinced that Kyrsten Sinema has no interest in getting re-elected. Oh, sure, she did get an "Arizona kickback" in the deal, to the tune of $5 billion in drought-resiliency money for her state, but this isn't going to change the fact that she completely changed her tune -- on just about everything she campaigned on to get to the Senate -- since she got there... and since nice people started offering her gobs of money to sell our her stated principles. She is angling for either a cushy lobbying job or even-cushier seats on a bunch of corporate boards, and serving out the rest of her first term is just a box to be checked on this route to riches. She is bought and paid for, plain and simple. We won't use the most-appropriate word in the English language to describe someone who fits this description, but we will certainly hand her yet another Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week for her disgraceful defense of the wealthiest Americans, who must (according to her) be allowed to continue paying half the tax rate that all workers pay.

[Contact Senator Kyrsten Sinema on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 671 (8/5/22)

Before we get started, we have a few condolences to send out.

This week Jackie Walorski, a Republican congresswoman from Indiana, died (along with two of her aides) in a head-on collision back in her home state. We've always been pretty non-partisan in offering condolences, so we feel for the loss of her family and friends and constituents.

Three people were killed in a freak accident in Lafayette Park (across the street from the White House) when lighting struck them this week. One other person was injured as well. Please, everyone, never stand under a tree in a lightning storm.

And finally, a personal fan note -- we were saddened by the death of Nichelle Nichols this week, a pioneering Black actress who broke several barriers in her portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura on the Star Trek original television show (and later movies). She will be missed by millions, and she will now live among the stars.

To all of them:

Requiescat In Pace.

This week, almost all of our talking points deal with a single subject, since it needs highlighting in the wake of the Kansas primary results. This issue is a potent one for Democrats. They should lean into it, hard. They should make the attempt to make the entire midterm election a one-issue election, in fact. Our last two talking points deviate from this theme, but you'll understand why they're both important when you get to them. So without further ado....

 

1
   Roe is on the ballot

This should be the core message Democrats deploy, out on the midterm campaign trail. Get right to the point.

"I am asking for your vote because Roe v. Wade is now on the ballot in every race across this country. Democrats hold razor-thin majorities in both the House and Senate. If we were to lose those majorities, you can bet your bottom dollar that a Republican Congress will try to ban abortion nationwide. Don't believe them when they try to hide their radical views or insist that somehow women's rights will be magically protected if Republicans gain control. They won't. They will be attacked. Because Republicans aren't satisfied with only depriving women of healthcare within red states, they want to legislate their religious beliefs on all the states, at the national level. Are you angry that your rights and your daughters' rights are being stripped away by the men in the Republican Party? Then vote blue this November -- up and down the ballot. This is your only chance to have your voice be heard at the national level. Make no mistake about it -- Roe is now on the ballot everywhere."

 

2
   Republicans do not care about the mother, or the child after it is born

Point out the rampant hypocrisy about to be attempted by moderate Republicans.

"Republican politicians are getting the word from their consultants to speak more 'moderately' about their forced-birth agenda. These consultants have reportedly told GOP candidates 'to emphasize care for women during and after their pregnancies.' This is nothing short of some sort of twisted joke, though, since Republicans are the ones who refuse to lift a finger or spend a dime on care for pregnant women or new mothers. They refuse to expand Medicaid within their red states because they still hate Barack Obama -- even though it means millions of women don't get any care while they are pregnant. They are against all child tax credits or subsidies. They are against making child care affordable. They are against free preschool. Which of them has actually voted for such ideas? Democrats do. Republicans don't, period. They are lying to you, straight up -- because the fact of the matter is that Republicans do not care about mothers or expectant mothers. All they care about is forcing all women who get pregnant to give birth. That is it. That is the sum total of their agenda, and it doesn't include one thing that would 'care for women during and after their pregnancies.' So don't believe the lies... vote blue!"

 

3
   Do we really want to force 10-year-old rape victims to give birth?

Boil it down to the real question. Don't get caught up in esoteric terminology.

"Let's just tell it like it is, shall we? The extremist Republican position is absolute -- no abortions for anyone, period, no matter what. They want to force 10-year-old rape victims to have the rapist's baby. That is not 'compassionate conservatism,' that is abject cruelty. Each and every day, that mother will look into the eyes of her child and see her rapist's eyes looking back at her. But Republicans don't care what trauma they're about to cause. They don't consider the real-life consequences of their votes in state legislatures or in Congress. They want to be purists. But another word for 'purist' is 'extremist.' When considering whether to vote for a Republican for any office anywhere in this country, voters should ask themselves a very simple question: 'Do we really want to force 10-year-old rape victims to give birth?' Because that is what you will be voting on, whether they admit it or not."

 

4
   Big government intrusion

Speak to conservatives in their own language.

"You know what the forced-birth laws really are? It is nothing more than Big Government interfering with your freedom. Instead of privacy between a woman and her doctor, the state legislature wants to dictate the conversation and the outcome. It is government forcing their way into the most personal and private decisions a woman can make. It is telling her 'the freedoms you had for half a century are no longer acceptable, you'll have to give them up.' It is a Big Government takeover of medical decisions, because they get to dictate the result. How can so-called conservatives be for such government intrusion? How can Republicans be for taking away freedoms? You may not agree with Democrats on what should be done with the federal budget, but Democrats are the ones out there fighting for your freedoms and against the heavy hand of Big Government in your doctor's exam room."

 

5
   This loss of freedom is just the start -- they're coming for others, too

They're only getting started, folks.

"Republicans are successfully removing one freedom from tens of millions of Americans even as we speak. But they're not going to be content with just that. They will be coming for other freedoms next. One Supreme Court justice even let this cat out of the bag, in his opinion tossing out Roe v. Wade. Democrats are fighting to protect other rights like the right of marriage equality for all -- no matter who you love, no matter their gender or race -- and the Republicans in the Senate are fighting against securing these rights. As far as Republicans are concerned, if the Supreme Court decides that gay marriage or interracial marriage is somehow unconstitutional, they're fine with that. Democrats aren't. Democrats want to enshrine these rights into federal law -- and Republicans are fighting hard against it. So don't believe them when they try to tell you abortion is the only freedom they've got in their sights, because they are obviously lying about that."

 

6
   They want to fight over your Social Security every year in Congress

OK, we've got two other topics for the week, and the first one is a doozy. Actually, both of them are....

"Senator Ron Johnson wants to gut both Social Security and Medicare, and if the Republicans gain control of the Senate that's what he's going to be working to do. So far, other Republicans won't admit it, but Johnson just came out for removing the protection that every single worker who has been paying into Social Security their entire working lives has right now, and instead force Congress to hold a giant political battle over both Social Security and Medicare each and every year. If Republicans held the White House and both houses of Congress, they could do anything they liked to Social Security or Medicare -- yanking the rug out of all retirees in America -- under Ron Johnson's plan. Republicans have hated the idea of Social Security ever since the days of F.D.R., folks -- this is really nothing new. But this is what is at stake when you go vote. Will you vote for a Democrat who refuses to allow political games to be played with people's retirement, or will you vote for a Republican who thinks Social Security and Medicare should be on the chopping block each and every year? That is precisely the choice they are giving you."

 

7
   When he's right, he's right...

This has to be unprecedented, for this column. Because our final talking point comes straight from a staunchly-conservative Republican -- a man who might accurately be described as "somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan" -- delivering a campaign ad for another staunchly-conservative Republican candidate. And the entire talking point is just going to be the transcript of that ad (or you can watch his gruff delivery on video). So, as astonishing as it is to type this phrase, we are in full agreement with Dick Cheney and applaud his efforts on behalf of his daughter Liz. Here's the full transcript:

In our nation's 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump. He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him. He is a coward. A real man wouldn't lie to his supporters. He lost his election, and he lost big. I know it, he knows it, and deep down, I think most Republicans know it.

Lynne and I are so proud of Liz, for standing up for the truth, doing what's right, honoring her oath to the Constitution, when so many in our party are too scared to do so. Liz is fearless. She never backs down from a fight. There is nothing more important she will ever do than lead the effort to make sure Donald Trump is never again near the Oval Office. And she will succeed.

I am Dick Cheney, I proudly voted for my daughter -- I hope you will too.

-- Chris Weigant

 

[Correction: When this article was first posted, I had relied upon memory (always a bad thing to do -- always fact check!) for the lowest unemployment rate, which I had remembered as being 3.4 percent under Donald Trump. It actually only fell to 3.5 percent, so now President Biden can at least claim to have matched Trump for "lowest unemployment rate in 50 years." The error has been corrected, and I regret relying upon memory. Mea culpa.]

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground