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The GOP’s Exceptional Abortion Problem
Plus: Now Mark Esper tells us.
TGIF. (Especially if you were watching the stock market yesterday.)
Former President Donald J. Trump asked Mark T. Esper, his defense secretary, about the possibility of launching missiles into Mexico to “destroy the drug labs” and wipe out the cartels, maintaining that the United States’ involvement in a strike against its southern neighbor could be kept secret, Mr. Esper recounts in his upcoming memoir.
Remember that the idea for “secret” missile strikes against Mexico comes from the same commander in chief who recently “joked” that the U.S. should put Chinese flags on F-22 jets and “bomb shit out of” Russia.
“And then we say, ‘China did it, we didn’t do it, China did it,’ and then they start fighting with each other and we sit back and watch.”
At the time, we were assured that we should all just chill out because the former president joking about false flags bombings was … lulz.
Esper, however, did not think the missile attack on Mexico was a joke.
Pressed on his view of Mr. Trump, Mr. Esper — who strained throughout the book to be fair to the man who fired him while also calling out his increasingly erratic behavior after his first impeachment trial ended in February 2020 — said carefully but bluntly, “He is an unprincipled person who, given his self-interest, should not be in the position of public service.”
Exit take: It would have been helpful had Congress and the rest of country known this at the time, but as we have learned, there are books to be written and sold.
So now that the former SecDef has written his book, we are faced with the question: Are we really going to do this again?
Radicalizing the abortion debate
In state after state, GOP legislatures have enacted bans on abortions without exceptions for rape, incest, or in some extreme cases, even the life of the mother.
To put it mildly, this reflects a dramatic change in the position that pro-life Republicans held until about five minutes ago. The obvious political problem is that such laws are deeply unpopular. As Aaron Blake notes:
One of the most recent polls to ask about this specific issue, a Quinnipiac University survey from late last year, found that just 16 percent of Texans said abortion should be illegal in the cases of rape and incest. Fully 77 percent said it should be legal — in a socially conservative, red state. And even Republicans opposed making it illegal in those circumstances by a 2-to-1 margin.
President Ronald Reagan detested abortion but endorsed exceptions for rape in the 1980s; George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump all also indicated their support for the measures. The National Right to Life Committee supported legislation that included exceptions in the 1990s. Even the Hyde Amendment, the federal law that prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions, has long contained these exceptions.
As recently as 2019, even Donald Trump felt it necessary to reaffirm his support for the same exceptions. “As most people know, and for those who would like to know,” he tweeted, “I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions - Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother - the same position taken by Ronald Reagan.”
But, in a sign of the rapid radicalization of the GOP base, legislators across the country were already embracing no-exception bans as more radical policies became a litmus test for conservative politicians. J.D. Vance, the Trump-backed GOP senate candidate in Ohio, reflected the new standard when he explicitly opposed exceptions for women who have been the victims of rape or incest. Last year, he described such pregnancies as “inconvenient,” but insisted that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Until now, Republican politicians were able to finesse the issue because the no-exception bans were merely performative. As long as Roe was the law of the land, they were firing blanks. But now with Roe apparently gone, the ammunition is live, and the policies that made good press releases are now poised to become draconian laws.
That position is now on the ballot in November.
Exit take: Maybe this explains Trump’s odd reticence to talk about what should be a signature victory. (Spoiler alert: it won’t last.)
Meanwhile, in Texas:
Since Monday, the liberal group Ruth Sent Us has published the public addresses of conservative Supreme Court justices, urging protesters to walk by them, and ShutDownDC has endorsed a walk-by “protest for reproductive freedom.” In Los Angeles, police clashed with protesters at an impromptu abortion rights rally.
None of this had the support of the Democratic Party, but all of it synced up with a message Republicans have made since 2017: that the left is sowing violence and chaos. No Democrat has a plan to break the filibuster, but the coming Senate belly-flop will confirm a truth that depresses Democratic voters: The chance to save Roe came and went six years ago. All of this is less complicated than the politics of abortion bans, and all can be fodder for Republicans.
The Race to the Bottom
Our cartoonish politics explained in cartoons.
In his newsletter, Robert Tracinski writes about the radicalization of both sides of the political spectrum. “A lot of this discussion was set off by Elon Musk, the presumed new owner of Twitter, who re-posted on that platform a cartoon created last year by Colin Wright,” he writes.
Tracinski offers a revision, “an updated and more accurate version of Colin Wright’s cartoon.”
This certainly reflects a lot of my “lived experience” from the past ten years.
My only reservation is that this still portrays the movement of the partisans as a race to the sides, to the left or to the right. But as I’ve been arguing, those aren’t the real alternatives. The real alternatives are up to liberalism and down to illiberalism—so the current political trend captured here is actually a race to the bottom.
Exit take: Feel free to discuss in our comments section.
What happens when a MAGA-fied candidate has to face the sort of questions they will have to confront in the general election? “GOP Gov. Candidate Abruptly Ends Podcast Interview Over Questions About QAnon-Linked Rally”:
GOP gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Doug Mastriano abruptly ended a podcast interview with Delaware Valley Journal, angry over questions about his participation in a rally linked to QAnon conspiracy advocates. The Franklin, Pa. Republican also objected to questions about his participation in the infamous January 6 protest that preceded the riot at the U.S. Capitol. More than 750 people have been arrested for their role in the assault on the Capitol building.
“I resent the fact that you want to castigate anyone who went down to Washington D.C. on January 6th as some kind of enemy of the public. That is dangerous. You’re talking like an East German there,” Mastriano said to podcast host Michael Graham.
Welcome to the world outside your bubble of crazy, Mr. Mastriano.
1. Is Biden’s Disinfo Czar Qualified?
Fantastic (and important) piece by Monika Richter in today’s Bulwark. She writes that Nina Jankowicz unknowingly advanced Russian propaganda about the Czech Republic. So, asks Richter, why has she been picked to lead DHS’s new anti-disinformation board?
Jankowicz writes that it was disinformation “surrounding the [2015 EU] migration crisis—not a pernicious pro-Putin narrative . . . that drove the Czech Republic’s creation of the first government-level anti-disinformation task force in NATO or the EU. What gave birth to the Czech Republic’s anti-Russian disinformation strategy was, quite simply, Islamophobia.”
This is false. It was Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine that mobilized the Czech government, as it also mobilized other Central and Eastern European countries, to mount a defense against the Kremlin’s malign activities. No question, the 2015 migration crisis was fodder for Russian disinformation efforts throughout Europe, and it did indeed stoke xenophobia and anti-EU sentiment in the Czech Republic. But the concern that Czech policy-makers began to grapple with after 2014 was the Kremlin’s many-sided influence and subversion campaign in the country. This campaign included not only disinformation but covert Russian intelligence operations on Czech soil, cyberattacks, political interference, and the weaponization of energy. In a stunning revelation last April, the Czech government confirmed that two deadly ammunition depot explosions in late 2014 were the work of the same GRU operatives who tried to assassinate Skripal in 2018.
2. ‘Never’ Abortion vs. ‘Whenever’ Abortion
3. If Biden wipes out college debt, why work hard and play by the rules?
A lot of other families made the difficult decision not to accrue that debt. Parents chose to forgo retirement savings or nicer houses in order to sock money away for college. Students chose cheaper state schools over private colleges, or they decided to pass on college altogether.
Millions of other graduates who did take out loans worked for years or decades to pay them off, making their own set of painful career and family sacrifices along the way.
What are we telling those families, if Democrats declare a one-time debt holiday in time for the fall elections? That all their hard choices amounted to a sucker’s bet?