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What the left can teach the right about political power

What the left can teach the right about political power
Photo by GR Stocks / Unsplash

Political power is not a toy. It is not a trophy awarded to the winner of the debate club. Power is a game, but it is the game of kings. It is chess, not checkers. If you intend to play the game, you had better come with a serious strategy and the will to win, because you can bet the other side is playing for keeps.

For too long, conservatives have engaged in politics as if it were professional football, something to watch for entertainment while sitting on the couch so you can complain about your team to the guys at work on Monday. But leftists understand that political power grants them the ability to reshape society, and while conservatives grumble at losing another playoff to their crosstown rivals, leftists are changing the rules of the game to ensure that they never lose again.Subscribe

Many conservative commentators directed their outrage at Donald Trump this week after he voiced his intention to maintain the position conservatives have argued for decades: that abortion law is an issue to be left with the states.

After the stunning decision of the Supreme Court in 2022 to overturn the constitutional disaster area that was Roe v. Wade, the question of whether and how to restrict abortion returned to the states with mixed results. Conservatives, who had expected the reassertion of federalism to usher in sweeping bans, instead learned that public opinion had shifted significantly since 1973, when Roe was first decided. In many states, even conservative ones, restrictions proved unpopular. After watching their hard-fought victory stall out at the state level, many pro-life activists decided that federal action was the only solution.

Trump’s decision to embrace the Dobbs ruling as a victory and move on is all about winning the presidency again in November. Most Americans do not like the idea of federal restrictions on abortion. Not only is it unpopular, it is a powerful motivator for the Democratic Party base to get out to vote.

If you want to ensure voter turnout and donations from the left as never before, making abortion law the central issue of the election is the best way to do it. Many pro-life activists have decided that this is a matter of principle and that electoral calculus should never factor into the decision of whether to put abortion front and center.

I fully respect that dedication to principle. Ultimately, however, this is not a question of principle. It is a failure to understand the mechanics of political power.

Power is a currency

As the political theorist Curtis Yarvin explained on my show, conservatives have a nasty habit of acting like broke heroin addicts when it comes to political power. Conservatives are not accustomed to having political power, even though they crave it, and the minute they get a hold of some, they want to blow it on the first political issue that comes to mind.

In contrast, the left understands that political power is a currency, and the best thing to purchase with that currency is more power. A victory on an important issue may feel great, but that victory is often quickly undone if the opposition regains dominance. Securing power does not just ensure victory today but also ensures that the victory will be retained and promises that additional wins will be easier to obtain in the future.

Did the Democrats campaign on open borders and trans kids in 2020? No. Did America end up getting open borders and trans kids anyway? You bet. Why? Because leftists understood that the most important thing was to secure their power first and to advance their agenda second. This did not mean abandoning their progressive principles. In fact, the left got to implement far more of those principles simply by understanding there is no substitute for victory.

The pro-life issue evokes passions for good reason, so let’s consider another example that’s less emotionally charged but no less relevant. Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have recently announced the administration’s intention to implement widespread student loan forgiveness. Biden made the same promise in 2022 to generate support during the midterm elections before his illegal program was struck down by the Supreme Court. No matter. The votes were cast, the elections were won, and the Biden administration regularly boasts of its dedication to skirting the court in any way possible.

Will the Democrats deliver total student loan forgiveness? Maybe not, but they understand that the issue is a winning one and their base does not care how it gets done, only that it gets done.

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