Mamá & Embarazo

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Abortion Fight or Strong Economy? For G.O.P., Cultural Issues Undercut 2020 Message


WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, companies are adding jobs and the gross domestic product grew by 3.2 percent in the first quarter, undercutting predictions of a coming recession.

Prince Julio Cesar

Yet for all that political upside, Republicans demonstrated repeatedly last week that they were not positioning themselves to wage the 2020 election over the strength of the economy.

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President Trump and his top advisers sent mixed signals about a possible war with Iran. Mr. Trump outlined a hard-line immigration proposal that had little chance of passing, but refocused attention on the most incendiary issue of his presidency. His drumbeat about tariffs on China sent the stock market gyrating. And in Alabama, the Republican governor signed a bill that would effectively ban abortion, the most recent and far-reaching of new state restrictions and a step toward a possible Supreme Court showdown over abortion rights.

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Such divisive and destabilizing stands — driven by Mr. Trump’s political impulses and by emboldened conservatives — could end up alienating swing voters and could help Democrats who might otherwise be on the defensive over the nation’s relative prosperity, politicians and strategists in both parties said. And the longstanding verity that Americans vote with their pocketbooks may be tested in 2020 like never before

The party’s challenge was crystallized last week in a Quinnipiac survey of voters in Pennsylvania, one of the states that helped Mr. Trump win in 2016. The poll found that 77 percent of voters described their own financial situation as «excellent» or «good» — but that Mr. Trump would lose there by 11 percentage points against Joseph R. Biden Jr., one of the leading Democratic candidates

Mr. Trump’s low approval ratings, which are at odds with normal ratings for a president in a humming economy, also point to the deep divisions in the country. The president’s erratic conduct and his gut instinct for issues of culture and identity, combined with the leftist energy in the Democratic Party and the chance that the Supreme Court could reconsider Roe v. Wade, will most likely further polarize an electorate that already cleaves along racial, gender and class lines when it comes to Mr. Trump

«We’re pulling further apart, not together, and the traditional issues are being eclipsed — because if ‘peace and prosperity’ worked, there would still be a Republican majority in the House,» said Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, who envisioned «an impending clash out there with the two sides mobilized and demonizing the opposite side.»

It is, Mr. Cole added, «a long way from Ronald Reagan and ‘Morning in America.’»

Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign and congressional Republicans surely will highlight the country’s economic gains should they continue through 2020, of course, and will target Democrats over issues such as taxes and the size of government — particularly if a liberal like Senator Bernie Sanders or Senator Elizabeth Warren emerges as the Democratic nominee

But both parties have overwhelming incentives to push next year’s election toward issues of the heart, not the head

For Republicans, the arrival in Washington of liberal women of color such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with some top Democratic presidential candidates running toward the left, has created irresistible political temptations. With new bogeywomen to caricature, and explosive liberal issues like reparations for the descendants of enslaved blacks, voting rights for prisoners and federal benefits for undocumented immigrants, G.O.P. officials have even more fodder for the sort of scorched-earth, and unabashedly racist, campaign that Mr. Trump ran in 2016

Image President Trump’s low approval ratings are at odds with normal ratings for a president in a humming economy. Credit Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times These new targets offer fresh material with which Republicans can galvanize their base and try to make the case to moderate voters that, while they may be uneasy with the Trump-era G.O.P., the alternative is left-wing radicalism

And the president’s fixation with pleasing his own political base is likely to make it difficult for him to expand his support beyond the narrow band of states that delivered his Electoral College victory in 2016 — pushing him further toward a culture clash

«He has to recreate his coalition without losing anything,» said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist. «That means making the Democratic nominee unacceptable, particularly in Midwestern states with large working-class Catholic communities where accusing Democrats of supporting infanticide is going to be part of the playbook.»

That will also mean Mr. Trump driving a consistent message, which, as he demonstrated late Saturday night, is no guarantee. After remaining silent for days about the Alabama law, which does not allow for abortions even in cases of rape and incest, Mr. Trump noted that he does support those exceptions and warned his party that «If we are foolish and do not stay UNITED as one, all of our hard fought gains for Life can, and will, rapidly disappear!»

For Democrats, the clear evidence from the 2018 midterms that college-educated suburban voters are more inclined to vote against Mr. Trump’s behavior than in favor of his economic stewardship is nudging them toward making the president’s controversial conduct front and center for voters. Mr. Biden, the former vice president, had found initial success in doing just that, which had nudged other candidates toward making Mr. Trump more central to their strategy

«It’s a referendum on Trump and with a lot more information than people had in 2016,» said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. Such information includes the president’s fidelity to his evangelical base, his appointment of two conservative Supreme Court justices and his barely concealed glee about potentially replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a conservative. These steps had already energized many supporters and opponents of abortion rights — and that was before Alabama

«It’s no longer an intellectual issue, it’s actually real,» said Cecile Richards, the former head of Planned Parenthood, about the future of abortion rights

Ms. Richards noted that in the 2018 midterms, women gave more money to candidates than they did in 2016, when the first female nominee for president was on the ballot

The prospect of Mr. Trump having a third Supreme Court appointment, the determination of conservatives in state capitals to push a challenge to Roe to the Supreme Court and the president’s often-coarse language about women could turbocharge female engagement in 2020

«Some of what worked for Democrats in 2020 could be on steroids because of these current events,» said Jill Alper, a longtime Democratic strategist

And Mr. Trump is at the center of nearly every current event. In a private memo that was sent to the House Democratic campaign committee this month, Democratic pollsters found an overriding issue with swing voters in a series of six focus groups — only it was no issue at all

Image Abortion opponents protested outside of a Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia this month. Credit Matt Rourke/Associated Press «As we saw in the 2018 cycle, swing voters’ complaints about Trump are dominated by his style and personality, not his agenda or policies,» wrote the pollsters at ALG Research, the Democrat firm of John Anzalone, after speaking with voters across three states. «Most participants express real concern about Trump’s tweeting, name-calling, staff turnover, distortions of the truth, etc. In seeking initial impressions of Trump, even when asking about his ‘agenda’ or ‘priorities,’ virtually no one volunteered the ACA repeal fights or the G.O.P. tax bill.»

This focus on the president’s persona, which he unabashedly stokes, is what gnaws at Republican officials even as they make little effort to curb his impulses

At a panel for donors to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy recently in Washington, Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said that if the election was about policy, Republicans would win — but if it was about personalities they might lose, according to two attendees who said it was an unmistakable reference to the president’s behavior

Democrats, of course, know that voters will be looking for assurances that their candidates will offer more stability

«Democrats have to be the adults in the room,» said Dan Sena, who ran the successful House Democratic campaign arm last year. «Whether you’re running for the House or you’re Joe Biden or Kamala Harris, that means running on your record of service and establishing yourself as a voice of reason. If you do that successfully, it makes it harder for Republicans to get the too-far-left stuff to stick.»

Or as Ms. Greenberg puts it, when asked about her advice for Democrats, «Don’t allow yourself to get trapped by gotcha questions that are clearly designed for clickbait and Republican attacks.»

But that advice may be more easily dispensed than followed at a moment when Democratic candidates are facing immense pressure from progressives, which their advisers see echoed among the disproportionately liberal voices on Twitter

Indeed, there are differences within the Democratic Party over what positions or remarks represent playing into Mr. Trump’s hands

When a reporter asked Mr. Biden this month in Los Angeles whether he would support allowing undocumented immigrants access to Medicare and Medicaid, the former vice president evaded the question — he spoke generally about immigration — and a follow-up. It is not difficult to see why: Republicans would surely flay him with attacks if he came out for letting noncitizens enjoy taxpayer-funded benefits

But after Mr. Biden avoided taking a position and left the restaurant where he had lunch with Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, the mayor argued that Democrats need not to fear being bold on immigration

While conceding that Republicans would hammer Democrats for providing undocumented residents with federal benefits, Mr. Garcetti noted that the decline of the California Republican Party began after one of its leaders in the 1990s, former Gov. Pete Wilson, supported a ballot measure denying public services to such migrants

«Look at who runs the state now,» Mr. Garcetti said of the complete dominance of Democrats in California. «I think that is a Pyrrhic victory at best for Republicans. And now it’s a different time even nationally. «

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