GELFAND’S WORLD - With the strong win for an Ohio ballot initiative guaranteeing freedom of abortion, Tuesday's elections showed that even in a marginally red state, there is a substantial majority for the pro-choice position. When you combine it with similar results in Kansas (a 59% to 41% drubbing of an antiabortion ballot issue), California, and other states, the conclusion solidifies. In both farm states and industrial states alike, the reaction against the Supreme Court's Dobbs v Jackson (2022) decision has been striking. What we are learning is that, despite the number of antiabortion politicians, there are large numbers of American women of voting age who are now treating this as their single-issue voting principle. We are also seeing it in special elections and the small number of odd-year elections, where pro-choice (and Democrats in general) are punching well above their weight.
To be specific, Ohio's Prop 1 cruised to a 13 point win, with a more than half million vote margin of victory. And this was accomplished in spite of attempts by the anti-abortion side to confuse voters, and even an attempt to change the rules governing initiatives that was defeated just a few months ago. The Ohio result shows that there is a majority of voters who not only are on the pro-choice side, they are demonstrating a determination to fight through the obfuscation and rules manipulation being thrown down by the opposition.
To get an idea of the feelings and logic underlying such votes, take a look at the compelling essay by Nancy Jones published in Daily Kos. The author describes three successive generations of women, herself included, being oppressed by legal restrictions based solely upon their sex.
Republican presidential candidates flounder when confronted by the question
The night following Tuesday's election, there was a debate among a few surviving Republican presidential candidates. As before, Donald Trump chose not to play, and Mike Pence had recently dropped out of the race. This left the following candidates: Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Sen. Tim Scott of S. Carolina. It may be objected that these debates are meaningless since Trump has the nomination in the bag, but there are lessons to be learned and conclusions to be drawn, considering how this debate came right on the heels of Tuesday's elections.
I'll start with a few words about what I heard during the opening hour of the debate. The first is that Republican candidates have an obsession with saying, "Our southern border." They offer remedies for what they perceive to be vast threats to our people and our way of life. We heard about the need to stop terrorists from entering over that border, but without the kind of specifics that Donald Trump used to offer, back in his "build a beautiful wall" days.
There was a question and discussion about vastly increasing the size of the U.S. Navy that might have come out of a different century, and seemingly missed any and all of the lessons coming from the Ukraine war -- the one where Russia's best ships are being blown up at the dock by relatively inexpensive armaments and blown up at sea by even less expensive motor boats turned into unmanned drones.
And at least a couple of the candidates suggested attacking Iran directly, in an unconvincing but somewhat scary exercise in chest pounding and blustering.
But when it came to the topic of abortion, they were kind of adrift. Let's take Nikki Haley as an example. She tried to walk a tightrope, suggesting that she would honor the decisions of individual states in spite of her personal antiabortion views. This sort of position is what campaign consultants think of as "finding a middle ground." Even Donald Trump, for all his crowing about achieving the overturning of Roe v Wade by appointing 3 Supreme Court justices, has been tossing out suggestions for legality up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, but a ban after that.
It's all the same game, and it won't work.
People simply don't make decisions that way.
When some subject causes people to be single issue voters -- gun ownership, property taxes, and now reproductive freedom -- middle ground approaches turn voters off. And why shouldn't they? The new majority who vote for reproductive freedom are not going to trust anybody who tries to tiptoe through that middle ground, because the voters don't see such people as trustworthy.
Recognition of the single issue voter as the determining factor has been, for some campaigners, a little hard to swallow. Such politicians try to treat an election as being determined by a basket of issues. Let's take one part medical costs, one part national security, and one part fear of foreigners coming into the country, shake well, and put out plans on each one.
The problem is that since Dobbs, a large number of voters are demanding that their candidates champion the right to reproductive freedom. Anything less is just waffling, and worthy of rejection.
The core question for the 2024 elections is whether the people who are energized right now will still be fearful for their own freedoms come next November. The answer is implicit in the question. Why should anybody who is fearful right now be any less fearful a year from now?
There is one other corollary to all of the above. When it comes to the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, all Republicans own it. There is simply no way they can evade responsibility. They will be asked, "If there is a national antiabortion law proposed in the congress, will you vote for it?" Given the new political reality, there is no safe answer. An answer of Yes will automatically turn off some voters, but a No answer will offend Republicans who supported the candidate in the past. We can look forward to hearing some long and ingenious answers to this question during the 2024 campaigns, but we can also expect to see one or two of the California Republicans in marginal districts go down to defeat.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)