Abortion & immigration: Dems prefer policy to politics; Republicans do the opposite

Sometimes my job is to challenge readers’ way of thinking. Sometimes it’s to reassure them that they are not the crazy ones, when the Devil doesn’t want them to know they see the world as it is.

My biggest complaint about the national media goes like this: They sacrifice telling the big story and focus on the little things because it makes their job easier. They talk about the details, and ignore the stakes.

In American government right now, what’s really going on is the Republicans want power at all costs, and the Democrats aren’t willing to pay that sort of price to control things.

Proof abounds. Donald Trump’s legal team wants him to have the power as president to assassinate his political enemies. The current president is Joe Biden. His political opponent is Donald Trump. No one worries about Biden flipping the kill switch on Trump. Why would Republicans want Trump to have that power?

A more tangible case of modern political asymmetry is unfolding right here in Arizona as Democrats approach abortion rights far differently than Republicans tackle – or refuse to tackle – immigration.

Arizona Democrats and progressive activists are about to do something to their political disadvantage, and give away their best chance in nearly 60 years to take back control of the state House and Senate. Their sense of right and wrong stands in the way of that.

Democrats in the Legislature are poised to pull a handful of GOP state senators across the aisle, and push through a repeal of the state’s already-infamous 1864 abortion law.  

They decided the politics weren’t as important as the reality of the 1864 law. They are trying to stop it even if it costs them great campaign slogans.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled the law should take effect despite passage of a 2022 bill allowing abortion until 15 weeks. That bill, passed by Arizona Republicans, included a clause essentially saying that the 19th century law — not enforced for 50 years — would remain in effect if the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out abortion rights. That happened, and the state court said, yep, the old ban is still in place.

Republicans in the state House and Senate blocked Democrats’ initial efforts to throw out the ban, but another legislative try found a handful of GOP backers. The House passed the repeal last week, and the Senate is poised to finalize its part on Wednesday, which will send it to the desk of a Democratic governor for her signature.

Trump had promised the Republican-controlled Legislature would repeal the law that was suddenly dogging his campaign. His latest public argument had been “let the states decide” the abortion issue. The state’s abortion ruling knocked his campaign off its pins for a few days as he looked like an idiot. 

Now he looks like a wise leader, whose assurances of moderation can be trusted. Never underestimate the 2024 voter’s capacity to ignore threats that aren’t obvious, painful and less than two seconds away.

If the Democrats just stood pat and campaigned on the GOP banning nearly all abortions in the state, Arizona’s pro-choice and anti-medieval voters could have turned out in big numbers to support an imminent ballot measure enshrining the right to abortion in the state Constitution, and the donkeys could have won up and down the ballot.

It’s no sacrifice

You know what? Democrats and progressives are OK with the political sacrifice. They, apparently, believe in the words that come out of their mouths.

Don’t talk political upsides and downsides with Jodi Liggett, CEO of the Arizona Center for Women’s Advancement. She called healthcare conditions under the 1864 law “a humanitarian crisis.”

Some 1,500 Arizona women each month — many of them with serious miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and other crises — seek abortion care and they would face a bleak reality under a near-total ban. They might be shocked to find out that their bodies could become the property of House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Peterson.

“Repealing the 1864 law is critical and we are grateful to Democratic lawmakers for spearheading that effort,” Liggett said. “But that action puts us back to a better, but not great, situation under the 15-week ban because that has almost no exceptions.”

The repeal means the 15-week ban, still on the books, is the enforceable law. Realize that. Republicans who crossed over to support the repeal still insist on a post-Dobbs reality where women are hyper-regulated.

Liggett doesn’t seem too worried about the political consequences. The constitutional amendment, Arizona for Abortion Access, will still likely pass because voters have opposed abortion bans in even redder states. 

“People are sick of extremist conservative lawmakers playing with their health and lives,” Liggett said. “They want these decisions returned to their medical professionals and patients.”

Repealing the 1864 law takes much of the immediate sting out of the issue, and it could be a memory come Election Day. Democratic capacity to pursue other priorities with control of the Legislature and governor’s seat likely got compromised. Bigly.

Republicans still get a 15-week ban with no real exceptions after that point. Methinks they protesteth too little if they really believe abortion is murder. Two lawmakers who supported the repeal lost their committee assignments. Two did not. They aren’t doing things like holding up further legislation until the repeal is repealed. The Arizona GOP knows how to get extreme. They seem to be moving on, instead.

They seem like the guy in the bar pretending he wants a brawl, while gripping his friends on either side “Hold me back! Hold me back!” They know the repeal is a political gift.

Give ’em hell, Juan

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the fact that Juan Ciscomani was the right hand of Gov. Doug Ducey, and had a direct role in vetting the appointees to the Arizona Supreme Court as the Republican governor packed it full of arch-right justices who were bound to come down on the side of the hardest restrictions on abortion that could be found.

Just consider immigration.

Republicans and right-wing media can’t shut up about an “invasion,” across an “open border” that will lead to “Crime!, Crime!, Crime! by immigrants who are “military aged men.” And for God’s sake, fentanyl pushers are coming for your family. No one is safe from the crisis at the border.

So when Biden wanted aid to fight off Russia’s fascist and borderline genocidal invasion of Ukraine, Republicans said “no dice” unless the border was fixed first. Fine. Democrats sat down and negotiated a border bill that gave the GOP almost everything they wanted.

Of course, we know by now that Republicans refused to pass it. Oddly, they ended up being OK with the foreign aid, which put them on the right side of public opinion. They were resolute in not doing anything to address their obsession.

The border issue better serves Trump’s presidential campaign, so a “crisis” it will remain. 

This catastrophe, if we believe U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani, is hitting his district first and hardest but he would rather have frightening images than a fix. The deal giving them most of what they wanted wasn’t good enough. Or, as some put it, don’t give Biden a victory.

Ciscomani issued a statement explaining his opposition to the compromise. 

“Our border is in complete chaos, and the Tucson Sector is the most impacted in the entire country right now,” he said.  “I have major concerns and cannot support this package in its current form, We need a much tougher approach to stop this crisis. In order to vote on an issue of this consequence, I need to know that it’s going to prioritize border communities like mine, and this bill falls short of doing so.”

I’m not sure how hard-assery is a method of prioritization but no matter. The translation appears simple. “I don’t write Donald Trump’s orders. I just follow them.”

It harkens back to Winston Churchill’s famous words after the Dunkirk evacuation, as Britain feared a cross-channel German invasion.

“We shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills … but only after the next parliamentary elections when I kick Labor’s ass. Until then, we totally surrender.”

Don’t buy for an eyeblink the substance of “this doesn’t go far enough.”

Nither did Operation Gatekeeper, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, the Secure Fence Act, the REAL ID Act, S.B. 1070, child separation or the border wall. If suddenly the absolutist approach is the only viable one in an election year, that’s just more proof Ciscomani and his fellow travelers prefer a crisis to assistance. Churchill wouldn’t have fought anyone anywhere if a counterattack didn’t reach Berlin. 


U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, Ciscomani’s progressive counterpart serving Southern Arizona, also opposed the border deal — because the Left got nothing out of the deal. 

Nothing for the Left was too much compromise for Ciscomani. 

I think he thinks like Trump thinks: They feared the bill would have put a dent in the problem — which would have been good for Biden and bad for Trump. I’m taking him at his word that the status quo at the border is a crisis. 

I don’t think the plan would have worked but I think Ciscomani is afraid it would and that would be good for Biden, therefore bad for Trump. Of course, this assumes he put any thought into it beyond “it’s what the God Emperor wants.”

When forced to choose between Southern Arizona and Trump, he’ll choose Trump.

When forced to choose between women’s health and what’s good for Biden and the Democratic Party, Democrats choose women’s health.

They care about their issues. The other party just cares about acquiring power. Why? That’s a whole ‘nother column.

Gentle aside: A border crisis is millions of people trying to leave a country, not come into one to do jobs the economy needs to have filled.

Sidebars and mainbars

The narrative jet stream of the 2024 election should be how Republicans so want power that none of their previous beliefs are operable. To what end do they want that power? That should be the first question the D.C. press corps is asking. What are the stakes?

Yet it’s given just the occasional sidebar coverage to the main bar of daily drama associated with “Trump on trial,” Biden’s age and more polls than Kristi Noem can shake a dead puppy at.

As a daily hard news reporter, I used to see my job as getting to the real story. Back in the day, it was invariably about conflicting and legitimate interests. Through that frame, there’s no reason to even think about bias. 

If one party wants absolute power for hardline reasons, then telling the real story can’t help but be perceived by some as “biased.” That appearance comes at a cost. 

To tell the real story risks access to Republicans the way Ciscomani refused to answer questions about this column or others I’ve done.

For most journalists, when they lose access, they lose their ability to pay their mortgage. There’s also the idea that to cross the MAGA Right is to lose to touch with “Real America.” Y’know, guys wearing hats inside diners. And if they lose the Heartland, the legacy media’s stature will continue to to flicker and wane. 

So the biggest story to hit American politics since the New Deal somehow is not dominating daily coverage. My national brethren from elite schools and in elite newsrooms fear offending power or the ignorant minority.

I can say this much. I would love to be wrong. 

Life would be so much easier if I thought the MAGA movement was just about policy details.  I could focus on the Regional Transportation Authority’s next election and stuff like that without having to Google “asylum laws for journalists.”

Plus the best cure for Trump nostalgia is another Trump term. The country needed Nixon II and Dubya II to realize just how bad those presidencies were. But I’m just not sure the American way of life will survive four more years. 

I’m ready to be convinced, otherwise. So please, Juan: tell me I’m wrong. 

Tell us what injury to society you would not let Trump cause. Tell us what ethical boundaries you will not cross at his behest.

Tell us you have the moral compass of Jodi Liggett but from a different direction.

I’m dying… democracy is dying… to hear that.