I think it was Ron Fournier who once remarked that political reporters tend to be more interested in the criticisms one makes against one’s own party than criticisms of a person from one party against another. I would tend to agree with that. I also think sometimes it takes an outsider to note things that would otherwise not be said in auditing the other party.
Consider, for example, abortion and what it has done to the Democratic Party.
Over the course of the 1980’s and 1990’s the Democratic Party became more and more a party centered on abortion rights as much as the GOP has been a party of pro-lifers. Major Democratic Party members, including Joe Biden, Al Gore, Dick Gephardt and Jesse Jackson had to publicly switch from being pro-life to being pro-abortion to continue rising through the party ranks.1 It forced even Tim Kaine to move left on the position in 2016 to such a degree that he seemed opportunistic and more liberal than Clinton intended. At the same time, because he was not pro-abortion enough, he hurt Clinton with a small segment of her base, but perhaps one that mattered in a tight election.
Abortion politics caused the Democrats to up the stakes for Supreme Court nominations. With Robert Bork, the Democrats pulled out all the stops. Their character assassinations on Robert Bork coined a new political word: “bork.” It meant an effort to destroy one’s character by savagely attacking one’s career and public positions through the most awful lens.
That led Joe Biden, in 1992, to refuse to hold hearings on George H. W. Bush’s nominees, which gave the Republicans their cover for the Merrick Garland situation. In the Obama era, the Democrats forced through executive orders compelling religious institutions to fund abortions, which led to a backlash against them. The effort to stockpile pro-abortion activists in the executive branch and federal bench caused the Democrats to scrap the filibuster for nominations. That is now being used by the GOP to put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and stockpile social conservatives within the executive branch.
Through all of this, as the steady drumbeat of abortion politics weighed down the Democratic Party, it drove religious voters out of the party. The party became more secular, more coastal, more urban, and less able to relate to people of faith and blue collar workers. That then drove up their crusades to compel Christian small businessman to bake cakes or be punished. In turn, that just caused more grievances against the party.
By the time Hillary Clinton ran for President, many Obama voters who voted for Trump said they thought Clinton was more interested in putting men in women’s bathrooms than putting people back to work.
In Texas, the Democrats sacrificed a lot of national money to prop up Wendy Davis. Her only claim to fame was a pro-abortion crusade in the Texas legislature. Greg Abbott not only beat her, but even women and Hispanic voters in Texas said they did not want to support a candidate whose single issue was abortion.
In 2017, there is more diversity of thought now within the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. The Democrats are vastly more able to go through the day never encountering a competing thought or idea from another person than a Republican is. There are more pro-abortion Republicans than pro-life Democrats. Still, the majority of Americans support restrictions on abortion.
The party that claims to be the party of science more and more finds itself confronted by science. Children in utero do feel pain. Children in utero, at some point, can survive outside the womb. Children in utero are actually human beings. The Democrats often deny all these things. It allows Republicans to offer up easily supportable legislation, like late term abortion bans, knowing Democrats will aggressively, reflexively oppose them thereby seeming extreme to many voters, including female voters.
And now, after years of catering more and more to those who believe in a right to murder children, the Democrats find themselves marginalized in close to a dozen states and out of power in a majority of states and Washington. So entrenched is abortion that Democrats cannot even build support networks with pro-life Trump opponents. Those pro-lifers were booted from the Women’s March, which in turn caused much of the media to portray it as a left-of-center protest instead of a true bipartisan expression of opposition to Donald Trump.
Still the drum beat for abortion goes on. It drives the party further to the left, makes the party less able to relate, and makes the party even angrier as Republicans pass laws to merely treat abortion procedures under the same medical and health standards as other outpatient facilities.
Instead of working on federalism and advocating abortion politics state by state, the Democrats made a power play through the Supreme Court to define abortion rights as a federal right. They wound up sparking a long struggle that fundamentally changed their party and made it less able to relate.
1. It is true that some Republicans have had to pivot on the life issue to the right, including George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole. It is also true that there have been many more high level Republicans than Democrats, including cabinet picks, who never had to “convert” to rise in power.↩