The Democratic “unity tour” lasted all of about a day. The Democratic brand, toiling in the dumpster, and only aided by single-minded opposition to Trump, just hit a major speed bump. One of its own making.
It’s no secret the grassroots wants to send a message in the many off-year special elections coming up. They already have in two (no medal for finishing second though). After failing in KS-4 and GA-6 the party and grassroots settled on the Omaha mayoral race as their next target.
Enter Heath Mello. A promising Democratic state legislator he rose up to challenge the incumbent GOP mayor of Omaha. All looked swell for party unity right?
Well, turns out Mello is/was pro-life at one time. He voted for a bill that banned abortion at 5 months (the final tally in the state senate was 44-5). Bernie Sanders, representing dedication to cause, endorsed Mello. So did the national party.
Uh oh. Identity politics based politics site daily Kos and pro-choice groups NOW and NARAL rescinded their support. Sanders did not. Perez, head of the DNC, did.
It gets uglier. After a number of endorsements we’re rescinded, Perez and Sanders were asked about the issue of abortion on their “unity tour”. Instead of being smart and deflecting Perez went into a full-throated defense of abortion rights. In every red state every party chairman probably cringed. It was a death-knell to their party’s chances to win seats in Nebraska outside Omaha. And Middle America.
This debacle doesn’t just have it’s roots in the Clinton/Sanders primary. It’s been a debate going on in the party for decades. Due to the being the party in power Democrats have been able to cover up this divide. Until now.
After 1994 and 2004, Democrats were at a loss. They hadn’t held the US House in a decade and the annoying dude from Texas had somehow beat a limousine liberal from Massachusetts. What to do? Well, headed by none other former Vermont Governor Howard Dean the party built a 50 state strategy. Candidates of all ideologies and beliefs filled Democratic ranks and helped fuel Democratic waves in 2006 and 2008.
But the center of power in the party had shifted after Clinton. Al Gore abandoned Clinton centrism and ran as a Dukakis type liberal. John Kerry continued this trend. But, even after centrist Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008, Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker and Obama occupied the White House. They rammed through bill after bill the public rejected and that ultimately cost many red state lawmakers their jobs.
In contrast to the Dean strategy, Obama and national Democrats ignored a 50 state strategy. Instead they carved up the electorate like slices of pie. Only when Obama realized this wasn’t enough in 2012 did he hit Romney with the now infamous ads accusing him of causing the death of a factory worker.
Such a strategy and all the ideological components needed to employ it transferred to last year. Until both Sanders and Trump showed Pelosi and Clinton economics STILL matters!
But while almost all Democrats can unite around opposing Trump they cannot unite around a strategy. And the abortion divide in the party is reflecting its deep divides opened during the 2016 primary.
It’s hard to forget. Clinton kicked off her campaign for President in NYC promising to defend abortion rights. Sanders made his entire campaign about class, class and class. During the debates Clinton knocked Sanders on guns (Vermont is blue but it’s rural) and abortion. I’ll leave my personal thoughts aside but just say the way she defended abortions made me queasy.
During every battle to date in 2017 something of this divide has been seen. In KS-4, the Democrat was pro gun and some groups refused to back him. In GA-6, Sanders said of Ossoff, “he’s not a progressive.” Sanders backed off but the message was clear. Ossoff is an identity politics driven political hack! Now, in Omaha, thanks to the tour, the divide is as wide open as GOP primary was last year.
Sanders has an 100 percent voting record from NARAL. His pro-choice stances should not divide the party. Mello will be in no position to impact health policy for women regardless as a mayor. His support for past pro-life legislation was geared towards getting reelected in a red state legislature. While Democrats want to stick it to Republicans and Trump their principles come first.
The problem is their principles seem unwilling to bend in any way. For once, the it is not Republicans with the principles issue. Particularly when it comes to pro-lifers.
Democrats have made it abundantly clear they do not care to court these voters in any way. The party’s identity driven political machine views them as the enemy. Sanders, by contrast, whose goals are built on class, is more willing to accept a big tent mindset.
Democrats have been losing pro-life voters since 94 when the Republican Revolution occurred. Arguably, George Bush and Donald Trump would not have won without the support of pro-life Evangelical voters in massive, and I mean massive numbers. Since the 2010 wave, Democrats have shown little interest in reaching out to them. Instead, they have been telling them to take a hike.
Mello is just the latest example. But, Democrats used them as sacrificial lambs in 2010. A whopping 40 pro-life Democrats voted for Obamacare. Many pro-life Democrats used to reside in the Blue-Dog Caucus but after the last few elections the Caucus is so small it is almost irrelevant. Statewide pro-life Democrats, Joe Manchin and Robert Casey tend to keep their views to themselves.
That probably won’t change and pro-life Democrats (who are 23 percent of the party) have to be shaking their heads. Back to Perez, who wholeheartedly endorsed abortion, ““Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable, and should not change city by city or state by state,” just told pro-life Americans we don’t want you in the party.
Ironically, Nancy Pelosi, who helped eliminate pro-life Democratic numbers in Congress went on TV and rebuked Perez saying, “of course” a politician could be a Democrat and pro-life. And Bernie Sanders refuses to revoke his support for Mello regardless of his views on abortion.
But, anyway you slice it, the message the Democratic Party is sending is clear. Pro-life voters are no longer welcome in the party. It has invested too much in getting groups like NARAL and NOW to fall in line behind their candidates and they need their support.
But, you might wonder about Tim Kaine. He was put on the Cinton ticket and said he was personally pro-life. That’s true, but since he was elected to the Senate in 2006, he has compiled an aggressively pro-choice voting record. Clinton’s half-hearted attempt to appeal to suburban, pro-life voters was just that, half-hearted. They saw right through it.
The politics of identity will not be easily ignored. The grassroots, spoon fed how any abortion is appropriate, would not let the party court pro-life voters even if they wanted to. Many Sanders voters are pro-choice, they are just driven by different issues. Democrats cannot be a big tent until they welcome all Americans, pro-life or not in their ranks. And they’ll continue to lose in Nebraska and Middle America until they realize this simple fact!