The GOP’s defensive posture.
August 3, 2022
I am writing this edition of the newsletter on the evening of August 2, 2022—a day on which several states are holding primaries. No results have yet been announced, so I take this opportunity to step back to reflect on the primaries without the post-facto “spin” that is inevitable when results are known.
Here is my takeaway: A consistent theme of Republican campaigns is that they are in a defensive mode. That is an untenable long-term position for the GOP. It is a party huddling behind fortress walls as the siege engines of democracy slowly and inexorably erode the foundations of minority rule.
I will discuss two examples, but I think the dynamic pervades the primaries on August 2nd.
First, there is a vote in Kansas to amend the state constitution to remove protections for reproductive choice. The anti-choice movement is sponsoring the amendment to the Kansas constitution. If those anti-choice proponents were confident that they were in the majority, they would have done everything they could to maximize voter turnout. Instead, they have adopted multiple strategies to suppress voter turnout and confuse voters about the meaning of their votes. (I thank reader Roger S. for his contribution to the following analysis.)
The GOP efforts include the following:
A vote to preserve reproductive freedom requires voters to vote “NO.”
The vote was scheduled during a primary, which typically has about 50% of the turnout of general elections.
There are essentially no competitive Democratic primaries on the ballot, while GOP primaries for many offices are hotly contested.
Scheduling the vote during a primary essentially disenfranchises the 546,000 "Unaffiliated" voters (roughly 30% of registered Kansans) who have no reason to turn up at the polls—other than to vote on the single issue of amending the state constitutional protection for abortion.
According to press reports, anti-abortion proponents flooded voters with texts on election eve telling them to vote “YES” to “preserve the right to choose”—a blatant falsehood.
Regardless of the outcome of the amendment to remove protections for reproductive freedom from the Kansas constitution, the tactics of the GOP anti-choice proponents telegraph their desperation. They understand they are doomed and are using deceptive tactics to delay their day of reckoning.
So, too, with the cadre of election deniers in Arizona. In every race for statewide office, one of the contenders for the GOP nomination is an election denier—i.e., someone who claims that the results of elections cannot be trusted. Who does that? Who runs for office saying that the results of the election cannot be trusted? Answer: Someone who believes they will not win and will be forced to challenge their loss in the future. It is true, of course, that being an election denier is a loyalty test in the Republican Party. But the reason that Republicans are election deniers is that they do not believe they can win in fair elections.
Democrats face a challenging election outlook in November 2022. But when one party is on offense and the other party is on defense, where would you rather be? Democrats are on offense and should take heart from the fact that Republicans are hunkering down as their base shrinks and their positions offend ever-increasing majorities of Americans. That is true regardless of the outcomes in particular races on August 2, 2022.
DOJ files suit to protect emergency treatment for pregnancies in Idaho.
Idaho has an extreme law prohibiting abortion except in cases of rape or “deemed necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.” But under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, hospitals receiving Medicare funds must stabilize anyone with a condition “that places a patient’s ‘health’ in ‘serious jeopardy’.” Thus, under federal law, a miscarriage or pregnancy complication could require a hospital to provide an abortion that would be prohibited under Idaho’s abortion law.
On Tuesday, the DOJ sued the state of Idaho in federal court, claiming that Idaho’s law violates the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. See Talking Points Memo, DOJ Sues Idaho Over Abortion Ban, Saying It Flouts Patient Protections. The DOJ will likely sue other states on similar grounds. The initial suit in Idaho signals a major clash in the Supreme Court in its 2023 term. Stay tuned, and good for the DOJ!
Senate passes healthcare bill for veterans sickened by burn pits.
Twenty-five Senate Republicans reversed their position of last Friday and voted in favor of a bill for medical care for veterans injured and sickened by “burn pits.” The turnaround was remarkable because it represented total capitulation and complete defeat for Mitch McConnell and his Republican caucus. The fact that Democrats were able to mobilize public opinion so quickly and intensely should be a sign of hope for us all.
Of course, the role of veterans’ groups and spokesperson Jon Stewart should be recognized and applauded. But there was nothing structural or magical about their effort that cannot be repeated by other advocacy groups. Let’s examine their success and replicate it. And the misguided attempt at political retribution by Senate Republicans will hurt them in the midterms.
The Inflation Reduction Act.
Speaking of “glimmers of hope,” Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are reportedly exchanging “text” of the proposed bill. That is a hopeful sign. See The Hill, Manchin, Sinema ‘exchanging text’ on climate, tax deal | The Hill
Pelosi in Taiwan.
Readers have asked me to comment on Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. I will give my views but take this opportunity to remind readers I have no special expertise in foreign policy (or politics, for that matter). I read the newspapers, just like you, and share my opinions.
I respect Nancy Pelosi and understand her support for Taiwan. That said, foreign policy should be conducted by the president, or at his direction. Imagine if Kevin McCarthy and Jim Jordan went to Taiwan over Biden’s objection for the same purpose as Pelosi’s visit: to reinforce America’s commitment to democracy in Taiwan. Or what if AOC and Joe Manchin traveled to Taiwan over Biden’s objection?
You get the point: once we start saying, “It’s okay if Pelosi does it, but not if others do it,” you have to start explaining why. And here, the “why” is that Pelosi is Speaker of the House and second in line for the presidency. Her position carries with it the implicit authority of the US. And therein lies the problem.
It is true that both Congress and the President have constitutional duties regarding foreign policy, but the duties granted to Congress are collective powers exercised jointly by all members of Congress, while the duties granted to the president are singular. If it were otherwise, every member of the House and Senate would attempt to conduct foreign policy. That, to say the least, would be a mess.
Research on the effectiveness of postcarding and letter writing.
In response to my defense of postcarding and letter writing yesterday, I received many responses from academic researchers, a private research firm, and boots-on-the-ground organizers. Some of the emails related to the single study that concluded postcarding depressed voter turnout. Most emails related to studies demonstrating that the opposite is true—that postcarding and letter writing increase turnout.
I am not a social scientist or expert researcher, so what follows is me repeating what others have told me (some of it “on background”). Although one researcher felt that there were no obvious errors in the study, another person familiar with the study described it
as tiny and poorly done. It was extremely small (a few thousand postcards). It wasn’t a randomized or controlled experiment. The postcards supported particular down-ballot candidates, but the researchers measured increase in turnout overall (which was not the purpose of the postcard campaign).
Another reader posted a comment saying that she provided the data for the study cited in yesterday’s NYTimes article. She remarks that “although well-intentioned, the postcard study was flawed from the beginning and its conclusions, therefore, were suspect, due to a lack of communication between me and the researchers when the article was written.”
So, the outlier article cited in the NYTimes op-ed seems suspect—or at least small and non-randomized. On the flip side, I received many emails pointing to much larger studies showing a positive effect of up to 3% in voter turnout in response to postcards. For a general discussion of that research and links to studies, see a blog on Medium, A Gateway to Activism, Postcards Win Close Elections.
Another reader from Reclaim Our Vote reported on several campaigns run by that group. She notes that
It’s worth underscoring that a relatively small percentage increase in voter turnout among the communities targeted for postcarding can have significant impact:
* In 2019 in Onslow, NC, 26% of purged voters to whom ROV sent postcards subsequently registered to vote.
* In 2020 in the Georgia primary, 3.3% of the 143,000 purged Black Georgia voters postcarded by ROV registered to vote.
* In 2021, in Petersburg, VA, there were 6100 voters with no phone number so ROV postcarded them, and 43% of them voted, compared with 40% voter turnout by all Petersburg Black voters.
Those are impressive results! Here’s my point: The weight of evidence suggests that postcarding and letter writing have a marginal effect that can make a difference in close races. If you can do more, great! But don’t let anyone tell you that your efforts in postcarding and letter writing are wasted. They are not!
Don’t look away from war crimes in Ukraine.
Cathy Young writes in The Bulwark to remind us that Russian atrocities are continuing daily in Ukraine. See Don’t Look Away from the War Crimes in Ukraine - The Bulwark. Young examines the facts surrounding the killing of 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war in Olenivka. Her research is appropriately detailed but, fair warning, she describes gruesome acts of torture inflicted by Russian soldiers on Ukrainian prisoners. Young’s article is a timely reminder well worth your attention.
The passing of three great Americans.
In the last week, we have lost three great Americans, each of whom has left an outsized mark on our history, culture, and values. It is beyond the scope of this newsletter to do justice to their legacies, but I feel compelled to say their names: Bill Russell, Nichelle Nichols, and Vin Scully. We will miss them all.
The overwhelming and surprising victory for freedom of choice in Kansas in Tuesday’s primary is encouraging. Although there is much to unpack to understand the victory, I see one lesson that should give us hope: Pollsters and pundits keep trying to apply conventional wisdom to a situation that is anything but conventional. We are too far removed from Election Day to give much weight to polls, but it is not too soon to realize that the future is open to us in a way that has not been in any prior election.
I have read many articles claiming reproductive choice will not motivate Democratic voters the same way inflation will motivate Republican and Independent voters. Those pundits and pollsters should be hard at work this evening, refining their underlying assumptions and checking their “conventional wisdom” at the door.
Something remarkable happened in Kansas. It does not guarantee victory for Democrats anywhere, but it tells us that our instincts and passions are right: This time is different. Let’s seek every advantage, work every angle, and dedicate ourselves as never before. We have a historic opportunity to beat conventional wisdom and continue the victories of 2018 and 2020. Let’s make the most of it!
Talk to you tomorrow!