Thinking about beating Trump: How many Democrats would back a pro-life Democrat?

The conservative interfaith journal First Things is not the place that one would normally look for an essay offering advice to Democrats who absolutely, positively, want to defeat Donald Trump in the next race for the White House.

I had intended to put this piece up as this past weekend’s “think piece,” but was not able to get that done. My free WIFI options in the North Carolina mountains were much worse than normal. Where I hang out, there isn’t even service on my smartphone.

So what is going on with this First Things piece by John Murdock, an attorney in Texas?

First of all, he takes very seriously the evidence that many, many conservative Protestants and Catholics really didn’t want to vote for Trump the last time around, but felt they were stuck in a lesser-of-two evils crunch — because of Hillary Clinton’s stances on issues such as abortion and religious liberty.

So what if the Democratic Party ran a candidate — a popular governor in a state Trump carried — who is a consistent Catholic on moral and social issues as well as a solid Democrat on a host of economic and justice issues. Yes, we are headed back into those interesting pro-life Democrat waters, again (following up on some interesting coverage at The New York Times).

We are talking about Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana. Hold that thought, because we’ll come back to it.

Let’s start with this interesting Murdock analysis of the Hyde Amendment issue. That’s the longstanding ban on using federal dollars to fund abortions.

Polling by Morning Consult earlier this month found that 38 percent of likely Democratic primary voters supported the Hyde Amendment, as did 49 percent of the overall electorate (with only 33 percent opposed). That largely corroborates what Marist polling found in early 2018. Their survey showed that 24 percent of Democrats “strongly oppose using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion.”  Another 19 percent were “opposed,” making the total Democratic opposition to taxpayer-funded abortions 43 percent. While these voters may have other issues — like civil rights, immigration, or healthcare — driving their election day choices toward the Democrats, many would still prefer a more pro-life candidate if one were available. Today, none are. 

This is a monumental shift. It was a Democrat, President Jimmy Carter, who first enforced and successfully defended the Hyde Amendment in court. Carter even withstood an internal revolt from feminist appointees in his administration, and he purposely appointed an anti-abortion Catholic, Joseph Califano, to head the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that would oversee the implementation of the Hyde Amendment.  

Publicly-funded abortions dropped under Carter from approximately 300,000 a year to the few hundred that qualified under the Hyde Amendment’s exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

Former VP Joe Biden used to back the Hyde Amendment, but recently flipped on that stance under waves of pressure from journalists and woke Democrats.

So why think about Edwards?

If the fifty-two-year-old Edwards is re-elected governor this fall, this Democrat will have twice won a state that Romney took by seventeen points in 2012 and Trump by twenty in 2016. Edwards, with a campaign team already in place, might then want to consider going national. He would certainly shake up the race if he did.

The son of a small-town sheriff, Edwards graduated first in his class and went on to West Point. He spent eight years in the Army, during which time he was a ranger with the 82nd Airborne Division. Edwards left military service as a captain, earned a law degree, and returned to his hometown before eventually entering politics. It is a compelling tale. As a pro-life, pro-gun rights Democrat, Edwards could expand the general election swing state map significantly in the South and Midwest.

The goal would be for Edwards to sort of, ironically, pull a Trump in the primaries. Gaining momentum in a crowded field winning with 28 to 33 percent of the votes.

The left wing of the party would, of course, go ballistic. But it would be very interesting theater, forcing Trump to argue with the whole Democratic Party, not just the people on the far left that he is prepping to fight.

Yes, I hear you coughing out there.

That leads us to the most important sentence in the whole piece.

It may be more difficult for Governor Edwards to win the Democratic nomination than to defeat Trump.

This leads to the big question: Do the Democrats really want to beat Trump? How badly do they want to beat him? Enough to work with Catholics, evangelicals and others who are fed up with this president?

Would anyone on the left be willing to compromise on some social issues and work with Edwards, or would that wing even split off — backing an independent candidate drawn from the party’s current left, lefter and leftist field?

Let’s end with this Murdock analysis, noting especially the part I have put in bold:

Edwards could expect some similar support from conservatives frustrated with Trump but who have no electoral outlet on the GOP side beyond William Weld, the pro-choice 1990s-era Massachusetts governor who is Trump’s only announced challenger. Late April 2019 polling found “15 percent of Republicans say they definitely will not support Trump for re-election, as do 30 percent of conservatives.” These voters might be willing to support a pro-life Democrat. When combined with either the 34 percent of Democrats who identified as “pro-life” in a 2019 Marist poll or the 21 percent of Democrats that Pew measured in 2018 who said that abortion should be “illegal in all/most cases,” this could be a potent coalition.

If the field stays fractured, any candidate with a committed 20 percent behind him or her could make some major waves. The Edwards story has more than a few parallels to someone who made waves all the way to the White House. Jimmy Carter was a small-town Southern boy who made good and went to a military academy — Navy, not Army. …

The parallels could continue. Carter ran as a religious and patriotic straight-arrow in the wake of a scandal-plagued presidency and surprisingly won his party’s nomination, despite being seen by many as too conservative.

Interesting. Read it all.

You can see the DNA of several major news stories and trends in this think piece.

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