If you’ve been following the broad outlines of the 2024 campaign, it has been pretty clear that Democrats are running on abortion, believing it to be one of the issues most likely to motivate their voters and also suburban swing voters. And over the past couple months it has also become clear that Republicans are looking to run on the issue of immigration and the border. Of course these aren’t the only issues being raised by either side but they are the ones many observers believe could motivate a lot of voters this year.
House Democrats are having their annual retreat this week and NBC News reports there is some concern among them that, looking at the two issues, Republicans may have the stronger issue in November.
“I’m concerned that in blue states where reproductive rights are already protected, does the border become more salient than the threat to reproductive rights near metropolitan areas?” one moderate lawmaker who represents a suburban district said here at House Democrats’ annual retreat.
President Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats can “perform well” on issues like reproductive rights, gun violence and the economy “when there is less chaos in the world,” the Democratic lawmaker said, noting that “public safety has improved in a lot of places and you see crime down.” But with wars worsening in the Middle East and Europe and recent record migrant crossings at the southern border, issues like border security “start to compete for salience, and that’s the concern.”
Think about it this way. There are millions of pro-choice voters in New York City, Chicago and Denver but right now none of them are in any danger of not being able to get an abortion because they have very liberal state abortion laws. So while an appeal to “protect abortion rights” nationally might move them somewhat, it’s not really personal for most of them.
However, there are also people in all three cities who are personally concerned about the recent influx of thousands of migrants via buses from Texas. Those migrants have cost all three cities a lot of money and brought some mayors to the point of begging for relief. In some cases, migrants have been temporarily sheltered in public schools. All of which creates a very present concern for taxpayers and parents.
Over at his Substack site, Matt Yglesias has a lengthy piece arguing that, generally speaking, Joe Biden appears to be losing the 2024 election. He suggests that’s partly because abortion isn’t as powerful an argument as the one that helped him win the 2020 election. That issue was COVID.
We know that Joe Biden won. But he did not win in the crushing landslide that the polls predicted. Instead, he won a modest popular vote victory and a narrow electoral college victory. During that campaign, one of the issues he enjoyed a very large advantage on was the idea that he would handle the Covid-19 pandemic better. Since that time, the salience of the Covid issue has dropped massively, and we learned that Operation Warp Speed was successful, which makes Trump’s handling look better. So that’s a big blow to Biden. To compensate, Biden currently has a nice advantage on abortion rights. But even though abortion rights is much more salient in 2024 than in pre-Dobbs cycles, it’s not dominant on the level of Covid in 2020…
So that’s Biden’s problem. He won narrowly four years ago. His best issue in that race has lost salience, and his best issue in the current race isn’t as salient as that issue was. Meanwhile, public opinion has become more conservative, and he is down in the polls as a result.
I’m not going to relitigate the entire COVID era again but I think it’s worth saying that Democrats did run wild with it politically, literally blaming President Trump for every individual death and frequently insinuating that he wanted those people to die.
If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this: Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain President of the United States.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 23, 2020
As we now know, far more US COVID deaths happened after Biden took office than before but Democrats just stopped blaming the president for some reason. Meanwhile, Joe Biden was also posting vapid promises like this one.
I’m not going to shut down the country.
I’m not going to shut down the economy.
I’m going to shut down the virus.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 30, 2020
Sure, Jan. Whatever you say.
The point is, and I think Yglesias is correct about this, abortion isn’t as potent an issue now as the pandemic was back then. It may still be significant in certain races but it’s not going to unify the party the way the absurd fantasy that Joe Biden would magically “shut down the virus” did four years ago.
Meanwhile, unless something actually changes, you’re going to keep getting bad news about the border crisis every month between now and the election. Maybe sanctuary city mayors will be able to discipline themselves to not complain about it as loudly as they have been lately (or maybe not). But there’s a real chance the border will still be on people’s radar in November. In short, Democrats are probably right to worry.