If there was any doubt, it’s now clear: Americans really, really care about their freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.
They’re also really good at seeing through smoke-and-mirrors attempts to say an abortion ban is not really an abortion ban. The same goes for trying to smear a candidate by ginning up hostility to trans kids. And people don’t want far-right censors sitting on their school boards, either.
The Nov. 7 election that dealt a stunning blow to the MAGA world in Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and other states was also an overwhelming reaffirmation of American values. It showed, without a doubt, Americans’ strong preference for freedom and opportunity over repression and authoritarianism.
The White House was definitely pleased; it immediately seized on the big wins for Democrats to underscore the point that it is voters who decide elections, not pollsters and pundits.
So, is it time for Democrats to relax? Not at all. In fact, the best posture for Democrats to adopt right now could be called “constructive panic.” Here’s why.
Far-right Republicans are smarting after this election. They will adapt and learn from their mistakes.
They’ll get better at showing a friendly face to the world. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), the new Speaker of the House, is as hard-core right-wing as they come. He’s also mild-mannered and pleasant in public.
They’ll get better at hiding their agenda when it suits them.
Yes, it was laughable to tell Virginia voters that the 15-week abortion ban Gov. Glenn Youngkin wanted if he got a Republican-run legislature was a harmless “limit,” not a ban. It didn’t work, crushing Youngkin’s likely aspirations for higher office, at least for now.
There was also Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, on election night, saying that Republicans just need to get “better at the way we discuss this issue.” Maybe he means they need better euphemisms? Because the lesson Republicans are apparently drawing from this is that whatever they might think, they should avoid openly campaigning for an abortion ban, the same way they avoid saying they’re for tax cuts for the rich or cutting Social Security and Medicare.
Meanwhile when anti-abortion activists think they’re talking to like-minded folks, what they say is very different. The group Students for Life sent an email to supporters bemoaning the election results, saying, “We must hold our vision of a post-Roe America where abortion is unthinkable and unavailable close in our hearts, always believing that it’s achievable.”
Unthinkable and unavailable. That’s terrifying.
Another big reason Democrats can’t let their guard down: voter suppression. Red states continue to pass laws that make it harder for people, especially Black and brown people, to vote. And maybe it was a coincidence that numerous polling places in a majority-Black Mississippi county ran out of ballots on election night in last week’s gubernatorial election, in which the Republican won. But it doesn’t feel right, and voters are demanding answers.
Finally, and I can’t say this enough, it looks increasingly unlikely that Trump’s criminal trials will get him convicted or jailed by Election Day. In a really disturbing new development, Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon just granted his request for a delay in pre-trial proceedings in Jack Smith’s prosecution of Trump’s classified documents case. And Trump’s ultra-loyal base isn’t going anywhere.
It really comes down to this: The 2024 presidential race is going to be incredibly close. Because of the Electoral College system (and that’s another problem), the 2020 election was decided, as NPR explained, by “just 44,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin.” The 2024 race will probably hinge on 50,000 votes in a handful of states, as well.
Here’s where the constructive part of constructive panic comes in. Between now and November 2024, Democrats need to make sure Biden gets the credit he deserves for the strengthening economy.
But they also need to lean into the values that determined the outcome of this month’s elections, the biggest of which is freedom. Conservatives think they’ve co-opted the word, but who’s the party of freedom now? It’s not the one that wants to dictate what people can do with their bodies, ban books and suppress votes. Democrats need to own the pro-freedom identity. And organize, organize, organize.
That’s the lesson to learn from this month’s election if we want to save democracy in the next one.
Svante Myrick is president of People for the American Way.