Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Dem chorus rising: Don't let them take your freedom

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For most of the post-January 6 era, the U.S. has seemed to be sleepwalking toward autocracy. 

Republicans swiftly fell in all but unanimously behind Trump's Big Lie that he won the 2020 election; red states passed a raft of voter suppression laws; Trump acolytes positioned themselves to seize control of election administration and machinery; pardoned Team Trump criminals and the RNC encouraged thousands to sign up as poll workers; and diehard election deniers won Republican primaries for secretary of state, attorney general and governor in key states.

Meanwhile, inflation dominated headlines, Biden's approval rating sank to record lows for a first- and second-year president, courts upheld Republican gerrymanders and struck down Democratic ones, off-year elections swung heavily toward Republicans, and Republicans led in generic Congressional polling.

Then came the riveting January 6 Commission hearings in June and July, with Republican officials laying bare Trump's criminality and pathology -- and smack in the middle of that timeline, the intense shock of the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs, overturning Roe v. Wade. Democrats woke up -- some Democrats, anyway. Gavin Newsom laid down a keynote in a July 4 ad aimed at Floridians ("inviting "them to move to California): freedom is under attack in your state...don't let them take your freedom.

Republicans are trying to take away your freedom:  A simple message that has the virtue of being true, and manifest. Rep. Eric Swalwell put it across in early July: We are the party of freedom. Freedom to make your own health-care choices. Freedom from your fear of gun violence. Freedom to have your vote counted. Our message is our values. Freedom for all.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress got their act together and passed a bill advancing long-term goals -- major clean energy investments and prescription drug cost control -- along with bipartisan bills to promote domestic chip manufacture, put some mild curbs on gun purchases and provide healthcare to veterans suffering long-term effects from burn pit exposure.

Yesterday (Aug. 23), a Democratic county executive, Pat Ryan, won a surprise victory in a special election in NY-19, a district that Biden won by just 1.5 percentage points and that was expected to go Republican, in keeping the apparent prevailing wind.  Ryan sang from the same psalter as Newsom and Swalwell, as he told Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent:

“We centered the concept of freedom,” Ryan told me in an interview. “When rights and freedoms are being taken away from people,” he said, they “stand up and fight.” Ryan said that for voters, the decision “ripping away reproductive rights from tens of millions of people” was “visceral.”

Ryan did not limit the freedom under attack theme to abortion: 

Ryan also cited a recent poll showing that a top issue for voters has become threats to democracy. When he saw that poll, he said to himself, “That is exactly what I’m feeling on the ground.”

Here in New Jersey, Rep. Tom Malinowski, who won his purple district by just 1 percentage point in 2020 and was thrown to the wolves by local Democrats in a redistricting that tilted his NJ-7 about 5 points toward Republicans, took swift notice (Malinowski was also quick to jump on the Dobbs decision and start emphasizing "freedom").  A Malinowski campaign text to supporters today channeled Ryan (my emphasis):

Urgent Update from team Malinowski: Democrat won big in upstate New York last night - a race widely seen as a bellwether of the GOP's strength.

Voters are making it clear, from New York to Kansas and everywhere in between: Americans won't stand for the GOP's attempts to take away our most fundamental freedoms and undermine our reproductive rights.

Momentum is on our side - and we have to keep it up to win in NJ-07.

Lest the point be lost, twenty-five minutes later came an email "from" Pat Ryan himself:

Hi Andrew, Tom Malinowski asked me to reach out.

My name is Pat Ryan, and I just won a toss-up special election in upstate New York.

Will you split a contribution between me and Tom Malinowski to help defend this seat and protect our Democratic majority?...

Voters are making it clear, from here in New York to Kansas and everywhere in between: We will not let Republicans take away our most fundamental freedoms and undermine reproductive rights.

Hmm, they are literally on the same page.

A few months ago, conventional wisdom had it that the election would swing almost entirely on pocketbook issues and Biden's (related) low approval ratings; there was little evidence that Americans recognized today's Trumpist Republican party as a threat to democracy itself, and Democrats weren't doing much to raise the alarm. That conventional wisdom may yet hold; odd breezes blow in summer. 

But with those breezes come hope. In response to Pat Ryan's discussion with Greg Sargent today, Gideon Rachman, a worldly stalwart of the Financial Times' Opinion page, tweeted:

If Rachman can hope, so can I. And canvass my ass off for Malinowski.

Update, 8/25/22: Matt Friedman, Politico's New Jersey reporter, considers the implications of Ryan's victory for Malinowski:

Democrats flipped the district [NY-19] in 2018 and easily held it in 2020, when Republicans didn’t put up much of a fight. But it only went to Biden by 1.5 points and Molinaro was favored to win the special election to replace former Democratic incumbent Antonio Delgado , who left to be lieutenant governor. In a wave election year, that kind of district should be prime Republican pickup territory. And both Ryan and Molinaro, the Ulster and Dutchess county executives, respectively, were top-tier recruits.

Ryan ran a campaign that focused heavily on abortion. Molinaro ran on inflation and the economy. Sound familiar? It’s the same playbook New Jersey candidates are using in swingy districts — especially District 7, Rep. Tom Maliniowski 's seat...

I’d still say that Malinowski is the underdog in November to Tom Kean Jr. But the New York results seem to have confirmed his campaign strategy.

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