For Democrats, Fear Is the Path to Victory in November | Opinion

Since the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in late June, Democrats are polling a bit better in the race for Congress. But with inflation still spiking, and the recalcitrant refusal of one senator to pass any meaningful part of President Biden's agenda, Democrats are going to need more than just anger at unelected judges to avoid a bloodbath.

There's no guarantee that any of it will work, but Democrats owe their supporters, and the country, a vigorous and creative campaign to prevent these Republicans from taking power. And thanks to the Supreme Court's overreach, some polls now have Democrats leading, or tied, in generic congressional ballot polls. Perhaps more importantly, surveys of individual races, like those showing incumbent Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer crushing her GOP challengers or Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan beating Republican J.D. Vance in the open Ohio Senate race, suggest that the environment may be even more favorable to Democrats than it seems.

Those tough races aren't going to win themselves. But Democrats have one key advantage: the GOP's Gilead wing, now headquartered in the Supreme Court, is sporting an unbelievably unpopular agenda, most visibly the effort to strip people of their reproductive rights in state after state controlled by Republicans. Voters oppose abortion bans with no exceptions 74 percent to 17 percent according to a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll. Some states look like they will ban abortion even when it would save the life of the mother, an insane position supported by just 11 percent of Americans, according to Pew. Only 15 percent of respondents in that same poll oppose exceptions for rape. Seventy percent oppose criminalizing abortions obtained by traveling to states where it remains legal.

Again, it's not just abortion. According to Gallup, 71 percent of Americans now support LGBTQ marriage rights and would be appalled by Republican plans to have the Supreme Court overturn the Obergefell decision which established the right to same-sex marriage. Many Republicans want to go after contraception. The Texas Republican Party just publicly endorsed a series of utterly bonkers ideas, like granting everyone the right to openly carry guns in public without a permit, something that isn't even popular in Texas. This slow-motion fundamentalist takeover of America should terrify voters — but Democrats must successfully link the Republican Party itself to these repellent maneuvers if they want to channel outrage into victory.

Voting Sign
A sign for a polling station is seen during the midterm primary election on June 21, 2022, in Alexandria, Virginia. Alex Wong/Getty Images

With the Supreme Court apparently preparing to turn gerrymandered GOP state legislatures into fortresses of authoritarianism, and with leading Republicans still incapable of distancing themselves from the attempted putsch to illegally preserve former President Donald Trump in office, Democrats also must go on the warpath for democracy. According to a June Quinnipiac poll, a staggering 45 percent of voters say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who says the 2020 election was stolen. Cut ads with Republican candidates endorsing that delusional conspiracy theory and fawning over Donald Trump. Repeat.

Stop the bleeding with Latino voters by stealing a page from the GOP's playbook. Republicans have successfully (if ridiculously) associated Democrats with socialism and incompetent left-wing dictatorships in places like Venezuela. Has it not occurred to anyone to tie Republicans to aspiring dictators like Brazil's radioactive Jair Bolsonaro? Now is the time to capitalize on the GOP's long-running infatuation with right-wing Latin American strongmen like Chile's Augusto Pinochet, and U.S.-backed military juntas like the one that ruled El Salvador in the 1980s. Helpfully, prominent Republicans are practically live-streaming their affinity for toxic authoritarians, including Fox's recent decision to film Tucker Carlson's white power hour in Brazil.

What links all of these reactionary ideas and tendencies together? They are all being pushed on an unwilling country by the zealotry of a cruel, radicalized religious minority that has thoroughly captured the Republican Party. Forget the anodyne ads promising to protect pre-existing conditions that dominated Democratic strategy in 2020 — Democratic candidates need a pithy way to describe this authoritarian hellscape, and a set of words and ideas to hang on every Republican candidate for public office. "Ultra MAGA" isn't going to cut it.

What are Republicans today? Mom killers. Forced birthers. Bounty hunters. Gun worshippers. Religious radicals. Coup conservatives. Remington Republicans. What do they want? Iran-style theocracy. Gender fascism. A brutal tyranny where women are legally inferior and where people are constantly getting massacred by radicalized young men hopped up on Republican propaganda. The Wahhabi Wild West, where Republicans believe in the peaceful transfer of power only to other Republicans. One person, one vote, one time.

Above all, Democrats must stop talking about the threats to democracy and civil rights like they are the fault of one orange man rather than a coordinated party-wide effort to roll the country back a hundred years. Every elected Republican is either in on it, or complicit. If they don't want this election to be about gas prices and inflation, Democrats must make it about something else. And it won't work unless they do the distasteful work of making sure voters fear what the GOP has in store for them more than they resent grocery bills and sticker shock.

David Faris is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Roosevelt University and the author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. His writing has appeared in The Week, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Washington Monthly, and more. You can find him on Twitter @davidmfaris.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.