Senate Race 2018

30 years ago it would have been fair to call me a “single-issue voter,” and that issue was abortion. I was, and remain, strongly opposed to what the press style sheets now have settled on calling “abortion rights.”

For some reason, though, I refused to burn bridges to the party that supported what then was the most liberal abortion regime in the Western world.

Part of my reason was professional — my state Right to Life affiliate was a client of mine for a time, and I wanted to act professionally, not politically, in representing them. Indeed, I got them as a client because my predecessor had been too blatantly Republican for the tastes of the Right to Life group’s new state President. Back then, we had Democrats who were positive champions of the pro-life cause in the Indiana House and Senate, and we praised them publicly.

Another part of my reason was that abortion is an issue where the party platforms seem oddly reversed, with the Democrats abandoning the littlest of little guys and the Republicans stepping away from toxic libertarianism. I kept thinking the Democrats could be brought to their senses, and that opposition to abortion could once more be bipartisan. (In thinking that, I underestimated some of the unarticulated political shifts that were taking place. I think it was the late Joseph Sobran who called the Democrats the party of “Vote your vice,” which had a humorous sting — until one reflected that not all vice is sexual. But that’s a story for another day.)

But over 30 years, the Republicans, who had my vote quite reliably (if not my rhetoric), became more obviously insincere about their abortion opposition, fronting candidates who memorized the words but plainly could not carry the tune. I got furious at a Californian supporter of the Constitution Party who opined contemptuously in 2002 that the Republican were just playing pro-lifers, but I now think he was substantially right.

For that, but mostly for other reasons, I no longer consider myself a Republican, feeling with many others that the party has left conservatism and left me. I could no longer be a single-issue voter, and the reflex to vote Republican is diminishing.

Which brings me to Joe Donnelly, one of my two U.S. Senators, famously up for re-election this year.

The consensus seems to be that Donnelly is at serious risk of getting upset by Republican Mike Braun, who won the “Vichyer-than-thou” competition in May’s 3-way GOP primary, thumping two “names” whose hollowness had become manifest in their years of public self-service.

Maureen Groppe of the USA Today Network casts the risk to Donnelly thus:

“I am, and have been, disappointed in his continued failure to advocate for Hoosier women and families regarding issues of reproductive justice,” said Emily O’Brien, vice president of the Indiana National Organization for Women, which is pressuring Donnelly to reject Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Anti-abortion groups, however, are also critical of Donnelly while praising GOP challenger Mike Braun, who is “100 percent pro-life” – including opposing abortion in the cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the woman. Donnelly makes exceptions in all three cases.

“He waffles,” Sue Swayze Liebel, the Indiana state chair of the Susan B. Anthony List, said of Donnelly. “And babies don’t need wafflers. They need champions.”

So his position is too pro-life for the Democrats, too qualified for the anti-abortion groups that continue buying Republican baloney. Maybe I’ll write some day on the pipe dream of a democratically adopted anti-abortion law with no exceptions for “rape, incest and life of the mother.” For now, opposing those exceptions in law seems more like checking the right boxes than like a serious political position.

Meanwhile, my first campaign mailing from Braun included the anodyne “I am committed to my faith, my family, my business, and my fellow Hoosiers,” with no further mention of what his commitment to faith and family mean. There was no mention of abortion. Not one.

Apparently, his “100 percent pro-life” position is notional, consisting of boldly “hoping” (when pressed) that Roe v. Wade gets overturned (a position he staked out in the Groppe article). Meanwhile, he can claim his hands are tied (as they pretty much are) and let the hardline anti-abortion imagination take over for what a mighty warrior he’ll be when the eschaton arrives.

Mostly, Braun’s mailer trash-talked Donnelly in ways I recognize as implausible and, as are most politics today, dishonorable.

Overall, Braun strikes me as a hollow man, just too unfamiliar to have bred full-blown contempt yet.

And then there is the meta-issue:

The system is being burned down before our eyes by its own chief executive. Given the complete and utter moral collapse of the Vichy Republicans in Washington, the only hope for rescuing it is for the Democrats to gain control of either or both chambers of Congress.

Frank Rich. Rich echoes Michael Gerson, who hopes to save the GOP from Trump by clobbering them up side the head with a big loss in November:

President Trump is a rolling disaster of mendacity, corruption and prejudice. What should they do?

They should vote Democratic in their House race, no matter who the Democrats put forward. And they should vote Republican in Senate races with mainstream candidates ….

I find Rich’s rationale more appealing. I also appreciate — make that “cherish” — the evocative “Vichy Republicans.”

Seth Godin suggests how to proceed with difficult decisions, especially when it feels like you’ve gotten a rotten deal, which is how I was bound to feel this month whether Trump or Clinton won in 2016. I haven’t fully worked through Godin’s protocol yet, and I’m not going to forget Trump’s judicial nominations or his defense of religious freedom (mostly for Christians, alas).

But Mike Braun has no presumption in his favor for this recovering Republican, and my heart, to return to where I started, is to protect the endangered species “Pro-life Democrat.”

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