Culture Wars/Current Controversies

How far to the right can Republicans go?

By Damon Linker, The Week

Abortion bans are testing Americans’ tolerance for far-right policies.

As a political centrist who’s voted exclusively for Democrats (or rather, against Republicans) for 18 years now, I’ve been making “popularist” arguments since long before the term was coined.

For those unfamiliar with it, “popularism” is the supremely commonsensical idea that Democrats should craft messages that appeal to the largest possible portion of the electorate and avoid staking out positions that are unpopular. In practical terms, this amounts to saying Democrats should lean into a broad-based economic message while soft-peddling support for polarizing cultural issues. The latter — examples include pushing to “defund the police,” talking about the United States as a fundamentally racist country, and expressing blanket support for transgender women participating on female sports teams — are often advocated by progressive activists but poll badly.

As I said, it seems obvious that political parties seeking to maximize their margins of victory, and hence political power, in a democracy should do everything they can, within reason, to make themselves as popular as possible.

But what about Republicans?

If Democrats risk losing elections by embracing unpopular positions, what’s likely to happen to the Republican Party now that red states across the country have begun to pass stunningly radical bans on abortion when polls consistently show that something approaching six-in-10 Americans want abortion to be legal in all or most cases? Sure, the 39 percent who think the procedure should be illegal in all or most cases probably constitute a majority in many of these states. But then, plenty of blue states are more progressive than the median voter. This doesn’t stop popularists from rightly fretting about its effect on the Democratic brand more broadly. Why don’t Republicans worry about the same thing in ideological reverse?


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