The political arm of the largest think tank affiliated with the Democratic Party says the party has a chance to convince voters extremism makes GOP candidates unelectable, but is warning it will take more than a focus on abortion rights to do the trick.
A new analysis and polling from the Center for American Progress Action Fund found a huge portion of GOP candidates in swing House seats embrace unpopular right-wing positions on Medicare and Social Security, election denial and abortion rights.
“Sometimes we get caught up on the shiny MAGA extremists and view them as outliers,” said Navin Nayak, the president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, referring to Republicans like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. “And what the data underscores is that MAGA extremists are at the core of who the Republican Party is today. You would think that Republicans would moderate away from these extreme positions, but they haven’t.”
While political forecasters continue to give Democrats a strong chance at holding the Senate, Republicans remain heavily favored to take control of the House in November, in large part because keeping the chamber would require Democrats to essentially sweep toss-up districts. CAP Action looked at those districts and found plenty of material for Democrats to work with — if the party can find the money necessary to do so.
The group looked at GOP candidates in the 30 House seats considered toss-ups by the Cook Political Report, races where you would expect candidates of either party to rush to the center of the electorate. Instead, they found candidates who embraced a host of unpopular conservative stances: Two-thirds had refused to accept President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, 60% support a national abortion ban or restrictions that do not include exceptions for rape and incest and 47% support cutting Social Security and Medicare in some form or fashion.
“What’s been surprising about this cycle is how reflexive the extremism of Republican candidates is, and how ubiquitous their willingness to embrace extreme positions is,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster whose research has helped shape CAP’s vision of “MAGA Republicans,” a term picked up and frequently used by President Joe Biden. “This is why Democrats could defy history and a lot of economic headwinds.”
For instance, Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), who represents a district Biden won handily, voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election and has co-sponsored federal fetal personhood legislation. Republican Karoline Leavitt, who is challenging Rep. Chris Pappas in New Hampshire, has insisted Trump won the election and said she would write legislation privatizing Social Security.
In polling provided to HuffPost, Garin looked at all voters who don’t identify as strong supporters of President Donald Trump or as “MAGA Republicans” — in other words, everyone a standard Democratic campaign might try to persuade or communicate with — and found 55% said ending Social Security and Medicare was one of their top three concerns about what Republicans might do in power, with 17% saying it was their top concern.
Forty-one percent said passing a nationwide abortion ban was one of their top three concerns, with 15% naming it a top concern, with another 39% percent saying allowing partisan officials to overturn elections was a top-three concern and 16% placing it at the top of the list.
Crucially, Garin noted, the three messages reach different groups: While swing voters who backed Biden are receptive to concerns about election denial and abortion rights, independents and older voters care deeply about protecting Social Security.
“It’s clear abortion is an extremely powerful and salient issue for voters, but Republicans have given Democrats the ability to reach an additional group of voters because of the willingness to cut Social Security and Medicare,” Garin said.
Protecting abortion rights has been the major theme of Democratic advertising thus far. Republican threats to Social Security and Medicare have been a prominent secondary theme, showing up in Democratic advertising in key Senate races like Colorado and New Hampshire.
Comparatively few Democratic campaigns have made election denial an advertising topic, though Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto did begin airing an ad attacking Republican Adam Laxalt for his involvement in “The Big Lie” earlier this month.
Garin noted Democrats need to look forward when discussing election denial, looking at threats to results in 2022 or 2024 rather than simply trying to relitigate the Jan. 6 insurrection or the 2020 election.
“If you’re talking about this in a backward-looking way, it’s less impactful,” he said. “People really resent it when politicians float the possibility of canceling their votes and overturning elections.”
CAP’s analysis and recommendations, oddly enough, are somewhat similar to what Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian, arguing Democrats need to talk about issues beyond abortion. (Neera Tanden, CAP’s former president and now a White House staffer, was a long-time prominent Sanders critic, leading to frequent clashes between CAP and those in Sanders’ orbit.)
“In my view, while the abortion issue must remain on the front burner, it would be political malpractice for Democrats to ignore the state of the economy and allow Republican lies and distortions to go unanswered,” Sanders wrote.
Indeed, a very Sanders-friendly line of attack, arguing Republicans would raise taxes on the working class while cutting them for the wealthy, was the fourth-most powerful argument CAP Action tested, with 12% naming it a top concern and 39% putting it in the top three.
Nayak said the party needs to make an all-of-the-above argument in the closing weeks of the election.
“We’ve got to make the argument over the last three weeks about all the ways in which they become extreme and radical,” he said. “We can’t assume that underscoring the most salient one for people’s lives, abortion, by itself is sufficient.”