If hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays virtue, for Democrats, abortion is the vice, and mitigating their party’s losses at the polls in November is the virtue.
Last week, the party in power caught a glimpse of how a Supreme Court judgment striking down Roe v. Wade might provide Democrats with a reprieve from electoral judgment day. An NPR/Marist survey conducted in the immediate wake of a leaked Court decision found that the generic ballot measuring which party the public would like to see in control of Congress found Democrats surging back into contention. The Republican Party’s lead on that ballot test evaporated over the space of a month, shifting by eight points back in the Democratic direction. “Wait till June comes,” Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego said of this poll, “and you will see that number go higher.”
The Democratic Party and its allied institutions aren’t waiting. With the primaries in pivotal Pennsylvania concluded and the battle lines set, Democratic groups are training their fire on the flawed candidate Republican voters nominated for governor. A forthcoming $6 million campaign targeting Doug Mastriano will not, however, dwell on his support for overturning the results of the 2020 election, his presence at the Capitol Building complex on January 6, or the “QAnon”-affiliated company he keeps. Instead, the Democrat-aligned group Strategic Victory Fund opens with a policy argument against Mastriano–specifically, his stated support for Texas-style legislation proscribing abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable.
“The first advertisement, titled ‘Mastriano Backwards,’ includes a video of Mastriano at a gubernatorial debate declaring his opposition to all exceptions in any abortion ban,” Politico reported. The ad features a clip from a gubernatorial debate in which the candidate declares (unsolicited) his refusal to “give a way for exceptions,” specifically for women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest. The ad presents this as evidence of Mastriano’s desire to “make all abortions illegal.” Though his staff has been coy about the candidate’s intentions, both the nominee’s campaign officials and the candidate in the debate specifically cited his support for a “heartbeat bill.” On the debate stage, Mastriano said hid personal position is “at conception” but “we’re gonna have to work our way towards that,” adding that those who pursue an “all or nothing” strategy tend to get “nothing.”
Regardless, the media campaign targeting Mastriano on abortion is indicative of how Democrats will leverage the end of Roe, which has energized Democratic voters and opened the donor class’s wallets. But the Democratic Party and its supporters have calibrated their maximalist opposition to limits on abortion just when it’s likely to come at the cost of their congressional delegation.
“House Democrats have vowed to do whatever it takes to protect abortion rights,” Politico observed Monday. And yet, “only a handful of them have endorsed the primary challenger running against Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar—their only colleague who opposes codifying Roe v. Wade into law…”
The outlet quoted a handful of Democratic lawmakers for whom access to abortion rights is paramount. They ostensibly believe that the decision to abort a pregnancy should be left up to the pregnant individual in most or all circumstances, but they who also refused to comment on Cuellar’s fate. He faces a challenge from progressive activist Jessica Cisneros, who has made her opponent’s discomfort with abortion a major theme of her campaign. Cuellar “could very much be the deciding vote on the future of our reproductive rights,” Cisneros charged, “and we cannot afford to take that risk.” She has called on Democratic leaders in the House to make an example of their caucus’s last pro-life member and withdraw their support.
Yet, the progressive candidate has secured the endorsement of just five of her prospective colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus. “You’ll have to ask them,” Cisneros backer Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters with perceptible bitterness when asked why her fellow Democrats are supporting a candidate whose views on abortion align more closely with his state’s Republicans. In fact, you don’t have to ask anyone.
Texas’s 28th, a heavily Hispanic congressional district situated along the U.S.-Mexico border, has become increasingly competitive in recent cycles. There is no guarantee, as Politico concedes, that a Democratic campaign dedicated to promoting permissive abortion laws would win over voters in the “predominantly Catholic city of Laredo.” Moreover, abortion seems to register less among the district’s voters than pocketbook issues and, critically, immigration.
Cisneros, an immigration lawyer who has campaigned in favor of lax border policies and advocated lifting the popular pandemic-era migration-restriction measure Title 42, has led some Democrats to conclude that she’s a liability in a district that could very well flip to the GOP in November.
As poll after poll indicates that Democrats are shedding support among Hispanic voters, a campaign that devotes itself to leftwing abortion politics over more tangible concerns (such as rising crime rates, a ballooning migrant population, and the rising cost of daily life) risks hobbling itself. That strategy would provide the illusion of efficacy, as Democrats enjoy a surge of interest, support, and donations on the national level while alienating voters in battleground districts.
Pro-choice progressives seem honest insofar as they’re willing to sacrifice winnable races to promote their opposition to restrictions on abortion. Democrats with an instinct for self-preservation are, however, picking their battles more judiciously.