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The Trailer: Four ways the leaked draft abortion opinion has altered the midterms

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In this edition: How the potential end of Roe is shaking up campaigns, what happened in Ohio on Tuesday, and an interview with J.D. Vance.

With all the news you need on the coming presidential race between Nina Turner and Larry Hogan, this is The Trailer.

In California, Democrats intend to put a state constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion rights on the November ballot. In Kansas, conservatives are mobilizing behind an amendment that would ban abortion throughout the state. 

And in Texas, a flagging campaign to defeat the House’s last antiabortion Democrat found a new, urgent message. The “future of our reproductive rights,” said immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros, depended on her defeating Rep. Henry Cuellar in a Democratic runoff. 

The leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade is playing out differently in every state. Each has a different tangle of abortion laws that were either unenforceable while Roe was standing, or passed in anticipation of conservative judges striking them down. 

But the same campaign is unfolding everywhere. Democrats are wielding the possible Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion like a weapon; Republicans are criticizing the leak of the opinion, while contemplating abortion bans that, for the first time in decades, could survive constitutional scrutiny. 

“Is this The Onion? Is this actually happening? Is this true? I honestly felt that way,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) asked at a news conference at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles on Wednesday, describing what he thought when Politico published the draft opinion Monday. “They’re winning. They are. They have been. Let’s acknowledge that.”

Voters are confused, which helps Democrats right now. Abortion rights activists had been predicting the end of Roe since the 2016 election, and the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg nearly four years later made many of them more fearful that would come to pass and that a new 6-to-3 conservative majority was going to overturn Roe.

But were voters paying attention? No, not really. Last month, a poll conducted by YouGov for The Economist found just 20 percent of Americans believing that it was “likely” or certain that Roe would fall, compared with 34 percent who said it was unlikely. In polling from The Washington Post and ABC News, most voters in six states where new abortion limitations have been passed — Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Texas and Wyoming — were completely unaware of them.

What explains that? Democrats who warned that the precedent was doomed had been saying so for years, leading some voters to tune them out. And Republicans, who wanted it struck down, usually didn’t say so to swing voters.

“It’s not on the ballot,” Donald Trump told Joe Biden at their first 2020 debate, after Biden suggested that appointing Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg would kill Roe. “You don’t know her view on Roe v. Wade.” 

The leak did surprise Republicans — there wouldn’t be the same hand-wringing if a clear decision was handed down on schedule. But Democratic candidates could benefit from newfound shock and energy among voters aligned with them, as well as confusion about would change and where, if some incorrectly assume the end of Roe would automatically end legal abortion all across the country. A majority of Americans — including an even larger majority of Democrats — say the Supreme Court should uphold Roe, the latest Post-ABC News poll shows.

Democrats are furious, which helps (some) Republicans right now. During the 2020 campaign, plenty of Democrats, President Biden included, adapted to the reality of a Trump-shaped Supreme Court by promising to “codify” Roe at the federal level. They never had a plan to pull that off — which was clear at the time, and is more obvious now that Senate Democrats have scheduled a vote next week on a bill that would create a legal right to abortion.

That’s going to become a sideshow, with Democrats far short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and two votes short of the 51 votes needed to eliminate the filibuster. Plenty of Democratic and pro-abortion rights efforts to fight back against Dobbs will be doomed, which will infuriate activists. And nothing creates content for conservative media, and the Republicans who increasingly speak through it, then furious protesters.

Since Monday, the liberal group Ruth Sent Us has published the public addresses of conservative Supreme Court justices, urging protesters to walk by them, and ShutDownDC has endorsed a walk-by “protest for reproductive freedom.” In Los Angeles, police clashed with protesters at an impromptu abortion rights rally. 

None of this had the support of the Democratic Party, but all of it synced up with a message Republicans have made since 2017: that the left is sowing violence and chaos. No Democrat has a plan to break the filibuster, but the coming Senate belly-flop will confirm a truth that depresses Democratic voters: The chance to save Roe came and went six years ago. All of this is less complicated than the politics of abortion bans, and all can be fodder for Republicans.

Antiabortion Democrats and pro-abortion rights Republicans are facing extinction. Well, they were on their way out already. There have never been so few antiabortion Democrats holding federal office, and there have never been so few elected Republicans who call themselves “pro-choice.” 

The Cuellar-Cisneros race in Texas’s 28th Congressional District could eliminate the only remaining House Democrat who has voted reliably against abortion rights, and Cisneros and her allies rapidly made this the focus of their race.

“I am calling on Democratic Party to withdraw their support from Henry Cuellar, who is the last anti-choice Democrat in Congress,” Cisneros said in a video statement Wednesday. That wasn’t going to happen — the video was released while House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) was in Texas, campaigning with Cuellar. 

“I don’t believe we ought to have a litmus test in the Democratic Party,” Clyburn, who didn’t mention abortion onstage, told reporters. “I think we have to bring as many people into the party as we possibly can.”

Cuellar's antiabortion votes were well-known when he beat Cisneros narrowly two years ago, and the high-profile passage of an abortion ban in Texas didn't shift votes there. It's not even clear that the Cuellar stance is unpopular in the Laredo-to-San Antonio district — since that law passed, Republicans have flipped one seat in majority-Latino South Texas and convinced a conservative Democrat to switch parties. 

In his only statement on the leaked draft, Cuellar explained that he wanted abortion to be “rare and safe,” favoring “exceptions in the case of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother,” but opposing an outright ban. That was the position dozens of House Democrats took until their 2010 wipeout, and a few more took at the start of Trump's presidency. And it's not compatible with the party platform or, outside his district, the party's base.

“How can a Democratic leader like Pelosi support an antiabortion candidate?” Justice Democrats, which recruited Cisneros to challenge Cuellar in 2020 and this year, wrote in an email to donors. “A core position of the party is the right to choose.”

Democrats will run against abortion bans; Republicans will run against infanticide. That's been happening for years, but the post-Dobbs urgency hasn't changed it so much as elevated it. When they were living with Roe, and looking for ways to limit abortions, Republicans baited Democrats into saying whether there were any restrictions, whatsoever, that they might oppose. When Democrats say no, or don't have an answer, Republicans run with an implication: Democrats favor abortion under any conditions, including the most extreme.

Some Democrats simply haven't had to fight this out before, and it shows. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who won the party's U.S. Senate nomination in Ohio on Tuesday, voted twice in favor of a ban on so-called “partial birth abortion,” taking heat from his primary opponents. But on Wednesday, when Fox News asked if he favored “any” limits, Ryan didn't talk about his vote.

“Look, you got to leave it up to the woman,” Ryan told Fox's Bret Baer. “You and I sitting here can’t account for all of the different scenarios that a woman, dealing with the complexities of a pregnancy, are going through. How can you and I figure that out?” Republican nominee J.D. Vance took that quote and ran with it, tweeting that Ryan was “defending abortion through 40 weeks” of pregnancy, taking “a barbaric position” completely alien to Ohio.

But this is a fairly new question for every candidate, Democrat and Republican, and Democrats now see a way to hurt the GOP over antiabortion positions that were meaningless so long as Roe was in place. 

In Wisconsin, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski cut an ad this week that claimed Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), her potential opponent, got “everything he wants” from the court — namely, “reinstating Wisconsin’s cruel abortion ban, and putting doctors in jail.” In Pennsylvania, where Attorney General Josh Shapiro is cruising to the Democratic nomination for governor, he's already highlighted the antiabortion views of potential GOP nominees to warn that any Republican governor would work with legislators to “pass a near-total ban on abortion in Pennsylvania.”

“Our Democratic governor's veto pen is really the only protection we have to protect the right to choose here in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said on a call with reporters this week.

Reading list

“In draft abortion ruling, Democrats see a court at odds with democracy, by Michael Scherer

Winning the popular vote for president, losing everything else.

“Abortion has long been complicated for Biden. Now, he leads the fight,” by Matt Viser

How the second Catholic president navigates the abortion battlefield.

“Progressives, ‘massively outgunned,’ ditched Nina Turner,” by Akela Lacy

Team Blue puts another win on the board.

“An upset win over the ‘enjoy rape’ MAGA candidate speaks volumes,” by Greg Sargent

Inside a surprise Democratic victory.

“Republicans, on cusp of abortion win, seek to change the subject,” by Mike DeBonis

What to say after you've won.

“A mole hunt, a secret website and Peter Thiel's big risk: How J.D. Vance won his primary,” by Alex Isenstadt

Leave it to Big Tech to come up with the sneaky idea of a campaign-messaging website.

“Trump and Biden prevail as party leaders in Ohio primary results,” by Colby Itkowitz, David Weigel and Annie Linskey

There were some elections in Ohio; perhaps you heard about them.

Tuesday takeaways

What happened in the Midwest on Tuesday? J.D. Vance triumphed, confirming the power of Trump's endorsement in a Republican primary. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) put away his primary challengers and got a race against former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley. Former state senator Nina Turner lost a House race for the second time in nine months, and promptly hinted at a run for president.

A few bigger trends showed up in the results. It's early, and we'll know much more about the electorate by the end of May, after 10 more states have held primaries and Texas has wrapped up its runoffs. But here's what we saw this week.

Republican turnout is up. Fine; Ohio's not an ideal test of partisan turnout patterns. It's an open primary state, so anyone can pull a Democratic or Republican ballot. But the number of Ohioans who voted in the GOP primary was significant, and the Democratic primary turnout in some longtime strongholds for the party was historically puny.

With nearly every vote counted, 1,068,817 ballots were cast in the GOP's primaries; around 10,000 voters who picked a candidate for governor did not bother voting in the U.S. Senate race. That's a significant jump from the 827,039 votes cast in 2018, when Republicans had a fairly uncompetitive U.S. Senate primary and a bitter race for governor. Turnout overall was up by 29 percent.

And the biggest increases in GOP voting came in place where Democrats have been losing ground. Four years ago, there were 11,392 ballots cast for Republican primary candidates in Trumbull County, the ancestrally Democratic area where Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) is from. This year, at least 17,478 votes were cast — an increase of 53 percent. Compare that with Columbus's Franklin County, where Democrats have been gaining. The GOP vote grew from 56,785 ballots to 71,343 ballots, a 27 percent increase, and a bit lower than the statewide average.

What about the Democrats? Their turnout was down everywhere, but the falls were steeper in ancestral Democratic areas like southeast and northeast Ohio. In Youngstown's Mahoning County, just 15,845 votes were cast for Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, compared with 20,332 votes cast for Republicans. That was a historic shift from four years ago, or really, from the county's entire modern history — in 2018, the county produced fewer than 13,000 primary votes for Republicans and more than 25,000 votes for Democrats.

Democratic enthusiasm is down. The GOP primary for U.S. Senate in Ohio devoured voters' attention, and dominated in the ad wars, so some of the Republican growth came from people who might vote Democratic in November. But not all of it. Look over to Indiana, where for the first time, Republicans running in the 1st Congressional District believe they have a chance to win it. 

Four years ago, just 22,080 votes were cast in the party's primary there, and 52,476 votes cast in the Democratic primary — a fringe challenge against an incumbent congressman. On Tuesday, Republicans cast 31,006 votes to nominate Jennifer-Ruth Green, while 39,826 votes were cast in the Democratic race, which once again pitted an incumbent against a minor challenger. GOP turnout rose by 40 percent, while Democratic turnout declined by 24 percent.

This was a body blow to the Democratic Party's left, whose candidates argue that there are untapped votes in places where the party has simply failed to organize. Morgan Harper, a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau attorney who ran for U.S. Senate after losing a 2020 primary for a House seat in Columbus, lost every single county with a campaign that endorsed Medicare-for-all and attacked Ryan for being late to support abortion rights. 

She'll end up with a bit fewer than 91,000 votes, far worse than former representative Dennis Kucinich did in a 2018 campaign for governor, the last time a member of the party's left wing challenged a D.C.-anointed candidate. In some rural counties, Harper ran behind Traci Johnson, a fringe candidate who never filed with the FEC and who froze, citing her nervousness around cameras, in the campaign's only televised debate. Harper did best in Franklin County, where she had run for Congress, and where supporters hoped that her weakness in the 2020 race was a function of pandemic conditions that shut down door-to-door campaigning. 

Maybe not: Harper won fewer votes in the old 3rd Congressional District than she had two years ago. In the 11th Congressional District, which contained more of Cleveland than the one Turner ran in last year, turnout was down overall and Turner got fewer votes — just 22,329 of them, down from 34,239 last summer. 

When Trump stays neutral, the MAGA test can end a campaign. Republicans drew Ohio’s new 9th Congressional District to put Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) in a hard-to-win seat, with Democratic Toledo surrounded by Republicans towns. J.R. Majewski had never run for office before; his two main rivals were state legislators with significant local endorsements, from the state Chamber of Commerce to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

But Majewski was a grass-roots MAGA candidate, who became famous in conservative media for creating an ornate lawn portrait of Trump. He'd traveled to Washington to attend the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, which preceded by a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol that day by a pro-Trump mob. He appeared in a “Let's Go Brandon” rap video that, by Election Day, had clocked more than a million views. He at one point event got a shout-out from Trump at the former president's rally in Delaware County, well outside the district, for his lawn art.

“He’s a great guy and he’s in there fighting for whatever the hell he’s fighting for,” Trump said, with Majewski watched from the crowd. “I don’t care. I love him.”

Majewski won, partly because the two more experienced candidates descended into a fight over Trump loyalty. State Sen. Theresa Gavarone struggled to live down her initial reaction to the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump was recorded bragging in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women. Gavarone had once said she was “disappointed and outraged” by Trump’s remarks. State Rep. Craig Riedel attacked her as a “Never Trump RINO” candidate.

Trump-endorsed candidates won easily on Tuesday, with the ex-president's former aide Max Miller and former Miss Ohio Madison Gesiotto Gilbert both grabbing the GOP nominations for House seats in Ohio. But Trump stayed neutral in Indiana. Green, a veteran, who could make history as only the second Black Republican woman elected to the House, easily defeated former LaPorte mayor Blair Milo. Green's biggest advantage? You guessed it: Milo was quoted as saying she wasn't sure whether she could vote for Trump in 2016, even skipping the RNC that year. And while Gov. Mike DeWine (R) prevailed, he got less than 50 percent of the vote against two challengers who, echoing Trump, accused him of not doing enough to protect “election integrity,” and of listening too much to experts who shut down normal life at the start of the pandemic.

Even now, Republicans can pick unelectable candidates. Michigan held four special House elections on Tuesday — one in a safe Democratic seat and three in places that tend to elect Republicans. But Democrats scored an upset in suburban Lansing, where Democrat Carol Glanville defeated Republican Robert Regan. She won by 11 points, as Democrats in other races slightly improved over how their party's nominees ran two years ago.

In an interview with The Washington Post's Post's Greg Sargent, Glanville said that the “big takeaway from all this is that people are tired of radicalism and conspiracy theories.” Regan had said that he told his daughters to “lie back and enjoy it” if they were ever raped, as he tried to draw an analogy to abandoning efforts to decertify the results of the 2020 election. Even with everything trending toward the GOP, a gaffe from an undisciplined candidate can still shift votes.

Ad watch

Michael Franken for Iowa, “Monuments.” National Democrats have already gotten behind former representative Abby Finkenauer, but Franken is still running for U.S. Senate, endorsing Medicare-for-all on the knowledge that Finkenauer won't go there. Frankeni s a retired U.S. Navy admiral, and the ad's vibe is patriotic, with sweeping shots of monuments that “inspire” Americans. It's not related to Franken's main message, but for anyone who needs a subliminal hint that Franken doesn't like statues being torn down, here it is.

Friends for Kathy Hochul, “Strength.” The New York governor's reelection campaign was one of the first to cut an ad based on the leaked draft opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. It's a digital spot, 15 seconds long, that mentions abortion rights briefly in a monologue about how Hochul will “always stand up for New York women.” She's the only female candidate in the primary.

Sarah for Wisconsin, What He Wants.” The ad-makers behind Godlewski's U.S. Senate ad believe they made the first real spot about the leaked Dobbs decision. Godlewski was in Washington when it happened, she got herself over to the court, and a producer hit “record” on an iPhone. The intended message is straightforward: Johnson, the only incumbent Republican senator facing reelection in a Biden-won state, wants to ban abortion, and the Supreme Court will make it happen.

Poll watch

“Would you favor or oppose this law in your state?” (Fox News, April 28-May 1, 1003 registered voters)

Banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy
Favor: 50%
Oppose: 46%

Banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy
Favor: 54%
Oppose: 41%

The Mississippi law at the center of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization does not ban abortion outright. It prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, about two months before the limit set by the Roe v. Wade decision. It was pursued, in part, because it was relatively popular, as this poll shows. Starting a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, before the estimated point of fetal viability, sounds reasonable to most voters, and a slim majority are fine with an even stricter abortion ban. The GOP's short-term bet is that voters believe “overturning Roe” would ban all abortion, and once they are told it doesn't, they're amenable.

“What is your opinion on the availability of abortion?” (University of Texas/Texas Politics Project, April 14-22, 1200 registered voters)

Should never be permitted: 15% (+2 since Feb. 2021)
Only in case of rape, incest or when the woman's life is in danger: 28% (-3)
For other reasons, but only after the need for the abortion has been clearly established: 11% (+1)
Always, as a matter of personal choice: 39% (+1)

This Texas poll, which also finds Gov. Greg Abbott (R) comfortably leading in his race for a third term, asks different abortion questions than Fox did. Half of Texans favor either fully legal abortion or abortion with a medical purpose. An all-out ban is unpopular; carve-outs for health reasons have significant support.

“Would you say that you are financially (better off) now than you were a year ago, or are you financially (worse off)?” (CNN/SSRS, April 28-May 1, 1007 adults)

Better off: 23% (+2 since Dec. 2021)
Worse off: 41% (+8)
About the same: 36% (-10)

When candidates say a new issue isn't at the top of voters' minds — legal abortion, the Russian invasion of Ukraine — they're telling the truth. CNN's new national polling finds voters still unhappy with the president's handling of inflation by a landslide margin, and economic angst runs through every question and answer. Unemployment is down since January 2021, but it doesn't matter to voters who aren't already inclined to vote for Democrats.

“If the Republican primary election for governor of Pennsylvania were being held today would you vote for…” (Franklin & Marshall, April 20-May 1, 325 Republican voters)

Doug Mastriano: 20% (+5 since April)
Bill McSwain: 12% (-)
Lou Barletta: 11% (+1)
Dave White: 8% (+3)
Melissa Hart: 2% (-1)
Nche Zama 2% (+2)
Joe Gale 1% (-2)
Jake Corman: 1% (-1) 
Charlie Gerow: 1% (-)
Don't know: 34% (-6)

When Trump arrives in Pennsylvania this weekend, Mehmet Oz will be there, but no Republican running for governor will. This is what a crowded GOP primary looks like when Trump doesn't pick a favorite. Mastriano led protesters down to Washington for protests on Jan. 6, 2021, and he leads here thanks to his strength with Republicans who identify foremost as Trump supporters. One-third of them favor Mastriano, and one-fifth favor McSwain, a former U.S. attorney whose ads call him the only Trump appointee in the race. One-eighth back White, a former county official in suburban Philadelphia who's put $4 million of his own money into the campaign. (Barletta, who got a Trump endorsement for his 2018 U.S. Senate race, lags with these voters.) No one else has a foothold.

2024

On Tuesday night, two very different politicians talked to very different audiences about the same thing — whether they'd make long-shot runs for president in 2024. Neither of them came out and said so. Neither left any confusion about what they were doing.

At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., outgoing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) once again described the ideal GOP nominee, one who sounded a lot like Larry Hogan.

“We won’t win back the White House by nominating Donald Trump or a cheap impersonation of him,” Hogan said in his “Time for Choosing” speech, part of a series that has given platforms to Republicans with bigger national ambitions. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. And we don’t need just another typical professional politician who bends with every political wind and stands for nothing.”

Around the same time, in Cleveland, former state senator Nina Turner was delivering her second concession speech to Rep. Shontel M. Brown (D-Ohio). Brown, who beat Turner narrowly last year, cruised to a 2-to-1 victory in the 11th Congressional District's Democratic primary.

At her concession speech in Cleveland, Turner did not congratulate Brown, and blamed her defeat on an “onslaught of corporate spending.” She then told her audience — including left-wing video networks Status Coup and the Young Turks — that she would speak “extemporaneously” about her future.

“Just like King James, LeBron James, decided to take his skills to South Beach, what Sister Turner is gonna do is continue taking my skills all over this nation,” Turner said. “And I’m gonna see some folks in 2024.”

Turner rattled off the name of primary states — California, Iowa, Nevada — that would have “something to say” about her next plans. “Sister Turner unleashed,” she said. “That’s what they wanted, so that’s what they’re gonna get. And I’ll see you all in 2024.” Moments later, in an interview with Status Coup's Jordan Chariton, she didn't rule out running for president outside of the Democratic Party.

“All options are on the table,” Turner said. “The two-party system, they got it on lock.”

Q&A

In the beginning, it made sense to write off Vance. Since 2016, Republican candidates who had said one mean thing about Trump had it thrown back at them like a missile, and lost primary after primary. None of them had trashed Trump like the 37-year-old author of “Hillbilly Elegy.” Before he even entered the U.S. Senate race, Republican voters got mysterious text messages about Vance calling himself a “Never-Trump guy” and considering a vote for Hillary Clinton.

Last month, Trump endorsed Vance anyway, and on Tuesday, Vance won the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination. Shortly before that, he talked with The Trailer about how he did it, and how he'd deliver on the promise that really thrilled conservative voters — firing the current masters of social media and academia, and picking ones with more traditional, family-first values. This is an edited transcript of the conversation.

The Trailer: When did you think you could win the race? Was there a moment when you could tell it was clicking?

J.D. Vance: The fact that the Club for Growth went after me early, which gave me enough time to respond, was a big mistake on their part. Obviously, I wasn’t happy when it happened. Certainly, the debates were very good for us — with voters, with supporters, with media personalities and so forth. Six months ago, I was living and breathing this race, but it was clear that most people were living their lives and not paying attention. The more gradually that they tuned in, the more I feel like it's gone in my favor.

TT: Did you wonder if the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and your response to it, could be used effectively to bring down your campaign?

JV: I was worried that the impulse to defend an innocent country — and it is an innocent country, which doesn’t deserve to be invaded — would lead us to some very stupid policy decisions. And I worried that I’d I pay a political consequence because of it. But it's something that I just felt so strongly about.

There were a couple of moments when I wondered if they’d use this successfully, but I felt pretty confident that our voters did not rate the issue very high. The public opinion on this was a mile wide and an inch deep. There were 10 other issues that people cared about more. And whether they agreed or disagreed with me, however tragic it was on a personal level, they agreed that it was distracting the entire country from much more important problems.

TT: There was a moment in one of the debates last year, after the Biden administration rolled out the employer vaccine mandate, when you said that Republicans should demand the elimination of the mandate before raising the debt limit. That looked like it helped your campaign. What else would you want to attach to must-pass bills next year?

JV: It’s hard to predict the future, but there are all these weird inflection points that come up, multiple times per year. I think they are opportunities for Republicans to actually get something out of the negotiation process, as opposed to just rolling over. That's really what the debt ceiling versus the vaccine mandate thing was. It was: Look, if Biden wants money to fund his government, then Republicans should be willing to get something for their voters. It was kind of weird that no Republican, or very few Republicans, thought that.

TT: What have you taken from the approach of Republicans like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis? They do something that corporations and big employers will oppose; they ignore the backlash and use the power of the state to enforce it.

JV: Our voters want us against corporate America when corporate America is fighting against them, and fighting against their values. There is a brand of establishment Republican politics that thinks that very worst thing in the world is for a senator or a governor to say no to a corporation. I think something much, much worse is that megacorporation creating filth and harming our kids. What I took from Florida is that our voters are much closer to where I am.

TT: At one of your town halls, Steve Cortes, from the Trump campaigns, said it was a plus that you'd worked in Big Tech — you were in it, but not of it. You worked for Peter Thiel, and he funded a super PAC to help you win. What's your response if someone says: Okay, how can you head to Washington to fight Big Tech when Peter Thiel supports you?

JV: Peter’s certainly had success in the tech world, but he also recognizes how destructive a lot of the modern social media and Internet companies have become. Peter was one of the early China hawks, and I think part of his skepticism of Big Tech is the increasing connection between American technology companies and the Chinese Communist Party. 

Here’s a simple way to illustrate this. Like, look at these guys on Capitol Hill who call Zuckerberg and the other tech CEOs before their committee, and they just get circles run around them. They have no idea how the technology actually works. They have no idea how to successfully push back against what's happening. It’s not even clear, when you watch these committee hearings, that any of have ever turned on their own phone. And yet, we're surprised that the tech industry has effectively run roughshod over, I think, very, very important American cultural values, like freedom of speech. 

So, I tend to think it's going to help that I know the tech industry from the inside. If you really want to push back against it, you can't go in at a huge deficit of knowledge.

TT: Last year, you talked about the “childless left” as a driving force in Democratic politics. Can you talk about where that concept came from?

JD Vance: The family is sort of the core of my politics. That concept actually came out because I was talking with a buddy about the biggest American cities that had the lowest numbers of children. He made the observation that Washington, D.C., was at the very top of that list. That’s really odd, right? That the city that’s governing the rest of the country is also the place that’s least like the rest of the country, where most people do want to have children and most people do start families. 

This really came up during the school mask mandate debate. The argument was: Well, it's not really that hard to make a 3-year-old wear a mask. And so you compare that abstract insight that people on the left had to my experience, as a father. My little kid is trying to understand what his teachers are saying, and he’s really frustrated because he can't read their mouths. When you have children and you interact with children regularly, I think you realize how many of the left's policies are really harmful to kids. 

TT: What's your take on the Biden administration potentially forgiving student debt?

JV: The basic thing is that the student debt system and, frankly, the entire college education system in this country, has become incredibly corrupt. I think the problem with student debt forgiveness on the backs of taxpayers is that it basically doesn't force any reform to that incredibly corrupt system. It’s, in some ways, a bailout for the people who are causing the problem. It’s one of these things where, if you do it, you’ll help a lot of young kids right now, but you’ll hurt the next 20 years of young kids, who are exposed to an even more corrupt and even more inflated system. 

So, I think there are a lot of things that we should be thinking about doing. One, make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy. Two, something like a large university endowment tax, and fund some student loan support through that. But anything that doesn't go at the universities I think is not just papering over the real problem, but actually making that problem worse.

TT: Do you identify with “common good constitutionalism”? There's an idea that simply letting things happen, in the name of Freedom with a capital “F,” is harmful to society.

JV: When the American founders talked about freedom, they weren't just talking about the ability to do whatever they wanted. They were talking about the ability to live meaningfully in a political community that was their own. And I think that very American constitutional sense of freedom is something that we often lose. A lot of American conservatives are recapturing this. In a weird way, we've come full circle. 

Countdown

… five days until primaries in Nebraska and West Virginia
… 12 days until primaries in Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, North Carolina and Pennsylvania
… 19 days until Texas runoffs, primaries in Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, and the special primary in Minnesota's 1st Congressional District
… 37 days until the special House primary in Alaska
… 54 days until the special election in Nebraska's 1st Congressional District
… 70 days until the special election in Texas's 34th Congressional District
… 181 days until the midterm elections

2022 Election Calendar

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