Chairman's Desk

Joe Biden has a clear path to victory: abortion rights

The battle lines of the 2024 U.S. presidential election are drawn, the ideologies entrenched. To say the electorate’s divisions are deep and well-established may be the understatement of this new century.

And so, now, the outcome will be determined by just one thing: election day turnout.

What else could there possibly be? A medical calamity? Criminal convictions? Maybe, but not likely.

That’s what will make this election historic. Not that it is the first rematch in almost 70 years but that it will be the first election that isn’t about persuasion but about turnout, in other words, which side can muster their voters to the polls.

Political orthodoxy would say: advantage Trump. The logic is clear. The MAGA crowd is angrier, and that anger, the orthodoxy goes, translates into more voters showing up on the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) in November.

I say: not so fast.

This election will hinge on — give or take — six states and the key districts within them. It’s here that turnout matters most and where the two strategic principles of turnout elections come most forcefully into play.

One, say what needs to be said to convince your supporters to show up on election day. Example, Bill Clinton, “I feel your pain.”

Two, don’t say anything that seriously motivates the other side to show up. Example, Hillary Clinton, “Basket of Deplorables.”

By far, the most improbable and therefore finest of Trump’s circus acts has been walking this tightrope. Seizing upon lightning-rod issues that rile up his base but not holding on so tight that it jeopardizes his electoral fortunes.

Recently, however, he’s taken a fall. And he’s done so as a result of one key issue: abortion.

During his presidency, Trump stacked the Supreme Court with conservative justices who did exactly what he promised they would: overturn Roe vs. Wade and the freedom to choose for millions of American women.

This was a categorical, strategic mistake.

The abortion issue is not abstract. It’s not a distant war in a place in Europe that most Americans will never visit, or a question of age or competency to lead; it’s an issue that has a direct impact on the life of every American woman.

Polling reveals Americans consider abortion to be a fundamental right. And, significantly, it’s an issue that drives Democrats to the polls.

Results speak for themselves. Democrats are riding a historic winning streak. Recent 2023 congressional victories extended into redder states like Kentucky. They’re raking in cash. And, most consequentially, Democrats have over-performed in every election since Roe vs. Wade was overturned.

Just last week, Democrat Tom Suozzi won George Santos’s former seat, further weakening the Republicans’ narrow lead in the House — weakness underscored by a string of legislative embarrassments, including their initial failure to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorka.

Polls are one thing. Elections are reality.

But of course, they are still proxies for the big show. And while Biden and Trump were not directly on the ballot of recent special elections, those elections reemphasize the strategic imperatives for both sides.

Trump needs to shut up about abortion. Unsurprisingly, he’s done the exact opposite. Recent reports confirm that Trump is contemplating sweeping new abortion restrictions, including a 16-week federal ban.

Biden needs to talk about little else and make the 2024 election a referendum on abortion. That means stepping outside his comfort zone: unapologetically asserting that abortion is health care and that Trump and his ilk mean to translate “The Handmaid’s Tale” from fiction into reality.

In turnout elections, where respective strengths and weaknesses are already well known, political gifts from your opponent are exceedingly rare. But the Republican’s unforced errors on the abortion issue is a gift to Democrats. One that’s paid dividends in recent elections and can pay yet again in the 2024 presidential race — if Joe Biden is ready to accept it.

This article first appeared in Toronto Star on February 25, 2024.

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