Wednesday, November 07, 2018

How to win going forward. Which side will learn first?

(I originally wrote this as a draft shortly after the 2016 election. I kept coming back to it, but never really finished it. I have updated the piece after the midterms.)

There's something people, especially pundits, are not talking about in the deconstruction of the 2016 presidential and now the 2018 midterm elections;

Abortion and guns.

Both have been hot button issues for a long time and will continue to be effective wedges for both sides in the foreseeable future.

When you ask people on the left what they stand for, what is most important to them, you will get a pretty predictable laundry list of issues; Free healthcare for everyone, free college, free housing, a fifteen dollar minimum wage, gender neutral bathrooms etc. Talking with some of my more liberal friends, especially women, of all the feel-good, hopey-changey things that makes the progressive left more appealing to them, it comes down to one issue. For many of them, that issue is Abortion.

Abortion is a core issue for women; on both sides. Yes, there are women on both sides of this divisive issue. Not that you would ever know that by listening to the news.

For those who see abortion as purely the matter of a woman's personal choice, there are others who look on abortion as the killing of a human life. Both sides are entrenched in their beliefs.  The pro-choice side can point to Roe v Wade and say it's the law of the land, but that doesn't change the fact that abortion, especially after the seventh or eighth week, stops a beating heart.

For many women who identify as feminist, the idea of abortion is very close to a religion for them. Those who are ardently pro-choice see any threat, any restriction on abortion, as heresy. Abortion on demand, at any time, up to and including the moment before the birth of the baby, is a woman's right, and she has the only say.

Now, some women I talk to say they are open to at least some restrictions on late term abortions. Unless there is a documented, medical reason that threatens the physical health of the woman, they think third-trimester, or late-term abortion, is wrong. However, they are leery of the slippery slope of restrictions that will put more and more limits on that choice, until abortion is only legal under a very limited set of circumstances.

I think this 'legal until the second or third trimester' stance is actually the general view of most women, and men for that matter. They know in their hearts that late term abortion, especially partial-birth abortion, is wrong. It's wrong when it's done for sheer convenience, or because the woman changes her mind in the last weeks or days of her pregnancy.

Bottom line; they think abortion should be safe, legal and available, but they are open to some restrictions on late term or partial-birth abortions as long as the restrictions stop there.

Anyway, that is my take on what I have heard. It's a very complicated issue.

If I had to guess, I would say abortion is probably the one issue that can influence the 15-20% of women who are usually non-political. They don't follow politics, in fact they probably hate politics, but they know they want to keep abortion legal. If they can be made to feel that right is under attack, they will show up at the polls. This is where Planned Parenthood, and the multi-million dollar abortion interest groups, come into the equation.

We saw this play out in the Kavanaugh hearings. Things got nasty because the left saw Kavanaugh as a direct threat to abortion-on-demand laws. Everything else, including the Christine Blasey Ford testimony was just theater. I hate to put it that way, but it's the truth. That confirmation vote was about abortion.

Now 15-20% of women make up a sizable group of voters. A group that size would swing an election from a toss-up to a landslide if you could motivate them to your side. If you could persuade them into voting for your candidate, or just get them to sit out the election, you have changed the race.

Could Republicans learn to soften their message on abortion? Could they start talking to those who would be willing to listen? It's a possibility.

For Democrats, this is a weakness. For Republicans, it is an opportunity.

Here is basically the flip side of that coin: Guns.

As a life Member of the NRA, a certified firearms instructor, and someone who follows every court case involving the second amendment, I am out of the mainstream. I understand that.

So to say that second amendment issues are important to me is an understatement. However, I know I am an outlier. Most gun owners just want to keep their guns, be able to keep this right for their children, and make sure criminals can't easily get their hands on them.

As in the abortion debate, there are people who live and breathe this issue, and others who are just interested only when they think it will affect them personally.

They really don't understand anything about assault rifles, other than they are scary looking and seem to shoot a billion bullets a minute, thanks to Hollywood and the media. Many of these soft second amendment supporters are on the peripheral of the fight. They can be moved into action by the NRA telling them 'the other side' is coming for your guns.  They are convinced that when Democrats say "common sense gun laws" they think it's double speak for gun banning and outright confiscation in the future. I would also say that this group is about 15-20% of the electorate.

Could the Democrats start talking about guns in way that eases the fears of this 15-20% Could they start talking to those who would be willing to listen?  It's a possibility.

To Republicans this is threat, to Democrats this is an opportunity.

So here are a few possibilities as I see it; whoever learns to assuage the concerns of either of these two groups will win at the ballot box for the next generation. Going further to right if you're a Republican, and further to the left if you're a Democrat is going to leave the middle wide open.

This is both exciting and frightening, on both sides.

What if republicans went out to speak with single women, with whom abortion resonates so deeply, and said this;

"We need your help. Can we speak to you about the best way to bring down the number of abortions in this nation? Can we talk to you about your fears, your concerns about keeping abortion legal, and work out a plan where we try to make abortion a rare, but legally protected choice in America?

I know we are not going persuade all of you. I want to speak with those of you who want to make sure your daughters will continue to have this right going forward, but who also see partial-birth abortion as a terrible thing. Something that must be stopped unless there is a very real threat to life of the mother.

Can we stop the fear mongering around this issue? Can we have an honest debate about partial-birth and third trimester abortions?"

Sincerely, (Republican turning a blue state red)

I think this is an argument that would swing many of those in that 15-20% of the electorate who vote around the abortion issue. Even if the republicans could get 5% to switch sides,  that would be a game changer. If they could learn to speak to those women who like the idea of school choice, pro-economic, pro-growth policies, but let them know the Republicans are not the town council from Footloose looking to establish their own moral code on America, they would win big. They could even win bigly.

Conversely, what if Democrats said to gun owners, especially the fastest growing segment, women gun owners, and said this:

 "We are not going to take your handguns away. We don't want to keep you from lawfully owning a firearm. If you pass the background check, and get the proper training, carrying a handgun for self defense is something we can support. We don't want the Wild West, but we acknowledge your right to self defense. We understand that the world is a dangerous place. We just want to make sure criminals don't use firearm to hurt others.

We want a nationwide, instant background check before you can pickup your firearm. We want to make sure the thousands of firearms laws on the books right now are enforced. We want to try to find a way to ensure people bent on the slaughter of innocent lives can't get their hand on the means to do so. We want to ban Assault Rifles and outlaw Hi-Capacity magazines. No civilian needs an AR-15.

I know we are not going persuade everyone. I also want to reaffirm, that we as Democrats, acknowledge your right to keep and bear arms. If you safely keep a gun in your house for protection, we want you to know we respect that. In the end, we need your help to try to make harder for criminals to hurt people with guns."

Sincerely, (Democrat turning a red state blue.)

Now, I can give you chapter and verse on why instant background checks won't bring down the homicide rate in America, but that is a discussion for another day. It's the criminals doing criminal things, not inanimate objects that are the problem here. Where I live in California, we have an Assault Weapons Ban, Standard Capacity (Hi-Cap) magazine bans, Universal background checks, 10 day waiting periods, purchasing licenses, ammunition restrictions and every other feel-good gun control legislation known to man. We still have mass shootings and gun crime because (Surprise!) criminals don't follow laws. It's why they are criminals.

The Democrats will surely demand an "Assault Rifle ban" even if this would only be symbolic. There are around one and a half million AR-15 style rifles in America. The Democrats are not going to knock on a million doors and confiscate them, that is how you start a second civil war. This is where they should tread lightly.

Just by acknowledging the right of legal US citizens to own a semi-automatic handgun, you diffuse the anxiety of a large portion of gun owners who are not 'gun nuts' but who want to protect their families with a 9mm Glock. Especially single mothers. Change those minds, and you change elections.

Do you think these two messages would resonate with voters, especially swing voters? I certainly do.

Here is the rub. The entrenched sides on these issues will point to a long history of republicans trying to outlaw all abortions, and democrats trying to outlaw all types of firearms.

The reality is neither of these cases will be made a central focus in the next election cycle.

Both sides are still largely funded at local, state, and federal levels by special interest groups. Your local congress member is subject to a big primary fight if they don't toe the line when it comes to these issues.

If you live in a dark red state, or congressional district, you will need that A rating from the NRA or National Shooting Sports Association to keep your seat.

If you live a dark blue state, or district, you will need that A rating from Planned Parenthood or NARAL to keep your seat.

I don't think the balance of power is going to shift anytime soon because of the deep polarization in the American electorate. How many pro-choice republicans, other than our current president, can you name? How many pro-second amendment democrats can you name? With the House in Democrats hands, and with the Republicans pickup a solid majority in the Senate, it is going to be even harder for either side to reach across.

Whoever figures this out first will dominate for a generation.