GOP candidates embrace culture wars
And they are already accusing President Biden of catering to college-educated elites as he plans to write off student loan debt.
In the primaries ahead of November’s midterm elections, Republican candidates are fighting contentious battles over gender, sexual orientation and race rather than sticking to tried-and-true attacks on inflation or the low Biden approval ratings.
Many believe these issues will broaden their coalition by weeding out socially conservative working-class voters. Their goal comes as a rollback of abortion rights, one of the biggest culture war issues, could become the crowning glory of the right. A leaked Supreme Court draft opinion showed that after half a century of activism, the High Court appears set to erase the nation’s abortion rights.
“Either party can end up in the wrong place on cultural issues,” said Tony Fratto, Republican political strategist and former White House deputy press secretary to President George W. Bush. “Where we are in this cycle, the Democrats have stretched further to the left and seem unreasonable to the center.”
Democrats argue Republicans have already gone too far the other way, particularly by attacking LGBTQ rights, which have broad public support, and banning library books. Some conservatives acknowledge that abortion is now a complicated issue for midterms, with leading Republicans last week downplaying the pending Supreme Court decision.
Republicans, on the verge of winning abortion, seek to change the subject
But many GOP candidates in recent weeks have signaled that they will continue to lean heavily on the culture wars this fall.
“We continue to show up to the knife fights of the Culture War with tidy 3 of 5 records,” Mehmet Oz, a frontrunner in the Pennsylvania Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, thundered during his closing remarks at the debate last week. “We need to address these issues. Liberals are taking control of our media, they are controlling much of the government, corporate suites are dominated by “woke” ideology, and so are our universities.
Some Democrats, meanwhile, are explicitly opting out of these battles.
“You want culture wars? I’m not your man,” Rep. Tim Ryan said in a published video just before winning Ohio’s Democratic primary for the US Senate – a video in which he also denounced the idea of defunding the police. “You want a fighter for Ohio?” I bet everything.”
JD Vance, the Republican who will face Ryan in November, offered a heavy dose of culture-fueled grievance during his victory speech last week. Minutes after winning the GOP nomination, he complained that the Democratic Party was “bending the knee to big business America and their ‘woke’ values,” and he predicted Ohioans would feel alienated by the left.
In a brief interview while campaigning in West Chester Township, Ohio, Vance offered a critique of the identity politics he said Democratic politicians embrace: The focus on race, gender and sexual orientation by the left is a distraction, dividing voters who should be united against powerful interests that seek to prevent lower-class prosperity, Vance said.
“Very often what is presented as diversity, equity and inclusion is actually an excuse to impoverish the American people,” Vance told The Washington Post. He noted that Democrats are celebrating Janet L. Yellen as the first female Treasury Secretary, rather than questioning whether her ideas led to inflation.
The polls paint a grim picture for Democrats on many culture war pillars. According to a recent Fox News poll, 71% said they were “very” or “extremely” concerned about illegal immigration, while 73% said they were “very” or “extremely” concerned about “what is taught in public schools”. according to the survey.
The notion of culture wars in American politics dates back to Southern resistance to integration, said Sean Wilentz, professor of American history at Princeton University, extending to Richard M. Nixon’s strategy of respond to disgruntled white voters in the South, he said.
“It’s very effective,” Wilentz said. “They’ve been working on it forever with retorts playing on all kinds of social resentments, cultural resentments, class resentments, regional resentments. This is the policy of mobilizing resentment.
The Democratic embrace of identity politics has played into Republican hands, he argued. “Traditionally, the Democratic Party is the party of integration as well as inclusivity, not divided identities,” he said.
Some Democrats acknowledge that their party has yet to figure out the best way to address race and identity and the basket of culture-related issues.
“Democrats need to talk about this promise of America, about the exceptional nature of America, about the sense of opportunity and the hope that America represents for millions of people,” Rep. Ro said. Khanna, D-California, whose parents immigrated from India. “Then we have to say, look, there were huge challenges. First, we made 40 years of mistakes where we outsourced jobs, we got rid of production.
“I don’t think we should avoid race issues or culture issues,” Khanna added. “I think what we should say is that what makes America exceptional is that we are a nation not based on blood, not based on creed. What makes America exceptional, is that we are going to become the first multiracial and multiethnic democracy in the world.
Republicans haven’t always had the upper hand on culture war issues. In 2016, a North Carolina bill requiring people to use bathrooms that matched their biological sex at birth sparked a huge backlash against Republicans.
Major companies, including PayPal, have canceled plans to move or expand in the state. Then-Governor. Pat McCrory (R), who signed it into law, paid the ultimate political price, becoming the first North Carolina governor to lose a re-election bid in a state that also voted to send Donald Trump to the White House . Exit polls showed that two-thirds of voters opposed the law.
Now Republicans say the landscape has changed. “I really feel the momentum is on our side,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a leading social conservative. “The left has engaged in a considerable amount of political hype at all levels and cultural issues are no exception.”
Republicans seem more emboldened to take on big business on cultural issues after four years of Trump’s push to break with corporate America. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis confronted Disney over parental rights legislation he opposed and attacked Disney’s tax liens.
Soon after, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation also targeting what he called “woke businesses.”
“Our tax code should be family-friendly and promote a culture of life,” Rubio said in a statement on the bill. Its legislation would prohibit companies from claiming tax benefits when employees travel for abortions or for expenses related to gender-affirming care for their children.
Some conservatives think their culture war message works particularly well for a key demographic. “The cornerstone of American politics right now … is the Hispanic vote,” Reed said.
One example is immigration, where Republicans have consistently gained ground. Fifty-seven percent of Hispanics supported keeping Title 42 immigration restrictions in place, an order that has prevented many migrants from crossing the southern border during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent Fox News poll. Biden has signaled that those restrictions will be lifted this month.
The Democrats risk alienating this part of their coalition on other issues. Sixty percent of Hispanic voters support laws that ban discussion of sexual orientation or gender politics in schools below fourth grade, according to a recent Fox News poll. Democratic leaders oppose these measures.
Reed said he views the parental rights legislation as a “two” for Republicans because it appeals to both minority voters and suburban mothers with school-age children, he argued.
with the fate of Roe vs. Wade in the balance, the GOP has had difficulty crafting a message. For example, as Republicans in Louisiana push to make abortion a crime, the Republican National Senate Committee, the main campaign arm of Republicans, has attempted to distance itself from this policy, and in a messaging document, he explicitly told members to say, “Republicans DON’T throw doctors and women in jail.” Mothers should be held harmless under the law.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, chairwoman of the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading opponent of abortion rights, acknowledged the muted response from GOP lawmakers but said Republican leaders have actually been more vocal. that usual. Five or six years ago, Republican lawmakers “wouldn’t have taken [media] appeals” on abortion rights because they would have liked to avoid it altogether, she said. “They would be so scared to say the ‘a-word’.”
Some Democrats say they are not fighting hard enough on the issue. “Where the hell is my party? Where is the Democratic Party? California Governor Gavin Newsom said last week during a stop at a Planned Parenthood office in Los Angeles.
Overall, Fratto described a dynamic that many Democratic lawmakers have privately noted: that tests of ideological purity on issues like trans rights in schools or other LGBTQ rights have left no mark. room for discussion.
“The problem with a lot of these questions is that if you don’t buy into the views of the ideological poles, then you’re not pure enough, and therefore you’re going to be out of favour,” Fratto said. “So there’s a feeling that you have to go deeper to the point where you end up where the center of America looks at you, frankly, like you’re weird.”
Fratto acknowledged that the gender debate in America is a “complex issue.” But, he said, “most people don’t see it with a lot of complexity.”