Opinion | How to defeat extreme Trumpists? Deliver a centrist coalition.
Analysis: Utah remains the beating heart of GOP Trump skepticism
The problem? Utah is marvelously sui generis. Its Republican Party has both Trump and Mitt Romney wings. This is ultimately a measure of religious seriousness. Unlike most evangelical Christians, many Mormons find it difficult to muster enthusiasm for an amoral sociopath such as Trump, or for the calculating minions who slipstream behind him. And Utah Democrats are in such a decided minority that supporting a (relative) moderate such as McMullin is the most realistic opportunity to defeat a “constitutional conservative” like Lee, who has ceased to serve the Constitution.
The Utah model — a centrist, anti-Trump coalition led by a center-right candidate — is unlikely to prevail in most places. More common will probably be Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election model: a centrist coalition led by a center-left candidate, campaigning to restore political decency and democratic values.
Much about the United States’ political future depends on the answer to this question: Can liberals rally the country to the defense of democratic liberalism?
There are considerable obstacles. The unreconstructed left of the Democratic Party views Republican extremism as an opening to pursue its own maximalist agenda. But this ignores a stark reality: In much of the United States, a candidate perceived as a woke socialist will generally lose to a candidate perceived as an authoritarian nationalist. And events have conspired to tempt Democrats into political choices that can shatter a centrist coalition against Republican extremism — particularly in reaction to gun violence and the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
When it comes to gun control, the provocations have been almost beyond bearing: the murder of schoolchildren, the violation of a civic celebration, the targeting of Black people, gay people and Jews. There is clearly a connection between the easy availability of high-powered weaponry, the internet mythologizing of nihilistic violence, the immense gaps in our mental health system, and the normalization of racial prejudice and political violence.
My natural reaction to such events is to support federal policies bordering on the confiscatory. But Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) took a wiser course. He pursued a useful incrementalism that allowed Second Amendment conservatives such as Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) to embrace reform, resulting in the first major gun control legislation in 30 years. This preserved the possibility that Democrats could lead a political coalition against Trump extremists that includes some gun-rights Republicans.
Michael Gerson: Abortion deserves a sober debate. Instead, it gets a war of unreason.
The same cannot be said of the abortion issue. The debate begun by Roe’s repeal has enabled maximalists on both sides — those who deny that a nascent human life has any value, and those who deny that the tragic cases of rape, incest, medical complications or child pregnancy present difficult moral choices. Few public officials have staked out the political ground where many Americans already stand.
A recent survey of polling related to abortion by the American Enterprise Institute’s Karlyn Bowman and Samantha Goldstein found general stability over the last half-century. In Gallup polls, they conclude, opinion “bulks in the middle, with 54 percent saying abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances in 1975 and 48 percent giving that response in its latest poll from May 2021. Of the remainder, 21 percent in 1975 and 32 percent in 2021 said it should be legal under all circumstances. Twenty-two percent said it should be illegal in all circumstances in 1975; 19 percent gave that response in Gallup’s 2021 question.”
Abortion rights are central to many Democrats’ political worldview. But would Biden have won the 2020 election if he had campaigned as a pro-choice crusader? Biden — who seldom mentioned the topic at campaign events, and who didn’t do so once during his convention speech — clearly didn’t think so.
Has the fall of Roe changed that calculation? I don’t see how. In many circumstances, including a national election, a Democrat who takes an extreme view on abortion won’t be able to lead a coalition that includes many center-right voters. And when commentators supposedly dedicated to Trump’s defeat abuse antiabortion advocates as intentionally cruel enemies of women, they are helping to ensure that Trump and Trumpism remain clear and present dangers to the republic.