June 9, 2023

“When you surround an army,” Sun Tzu counseled in “The Art of War,” “leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” Partisans on both sides of America’s everything-looks-like-a-hammer politics have forgotten this basic tenet of strategy — and are likely to pay for it.

Donald Trump announced that he expects to be arrested in New York and indicted in connection with charges that media reports say are about to be filed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Democrats greeted the news with characteristic gloating.

“(Trump) cannot hide from his violations of the law, disrespect for our elections and incitements to violence,” tweeted former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The New York charges concern the allegation that he misappropriated campaign funds in order to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels, who says she had sex with the former president. They have nothing to do with denying the result of the 2020 election or the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.


“I’ll throw a watch party when it happens,” Alyssa Farah Griffin said on ABC’s The View. “Lock him up! Lock him up!” Joy Behar responded, echoing the anti-Hillary chant at Trump’s rallies.

Schadenfreude is wicked fun, but gleeful Trump-bashers might want to consider the consequences: Grievance-mongering is one of Trump’s main political schticks. Revel in the T-shirt of the presidential mugshot but remember, MAGA nation will use it to rile up the GOP base — and bring back some 2016 Trump voters who became Never Trumpers as well. In a Trump perp walk (I’d advise him to demand one), conservatives will see maddening injustice where liberals see just desserts.

Indeed, even Trump’s primary challengers are coming to his defense. What doesn’t kill Trump makes him stronger; an arrest coupled with liberal gloating thereabout plays into his narrative that he receives unfair and disproportionate opprobrium while swampy mainstream pols get away with murder, hardens his supporters’ resolve, and increases his chances of being restored to power. “If this happens, Trump will be re-elected in a landslide victory,” Elon Musk predicted.

Meanwhile, Republicans are overplaying their hand on abortion.

Pro-lifers have launched a novel legal challenge to Food and Drug Administration authorization of the abortion drug mifepristone in a federal court in Texas, a case that will probably be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Wyoming recently banned medication abortion. A South Carolina bill would define abortion as murder punishable by life in prison or capital punishment. Considering that 85% of voters favor legal abortion in all or some circumstances — a record high since 1976 — they might ask themselves whether they’ve blown up a bridge too far.


One-third of American women now live in a state where abortion is illegal due to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Most abortion-ban states have exceptions for rape, incest and the life of mother on their books, but in practice very few exceptions are ever granted. A lawsuit filed by five women in Texas who nearly died because they were denied abortions to which state law said they were entitled highlights that reality.

When widespread demand encounters legal prohibition, people generally resort to a workaround — legally if possible, underground if not. There are roughly a million abortions annually. Medication abortions using mifepristone to block hormones that support pregnancy and misoprostol to empty the uterus accounted for 53% of U.S. pregnancy terminations in 2020, a portion that has almost certainly increased with the spread of telemedicine during the pandemic and the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision.

The mifepristone option has served as a sociopolitical pressure-release valve since Dobbs. Red-state women still obtain abortions without traveling hundreds of miles. Red-state politicians can pander to pro-life voters, pointing out that abortion is far more difficult to obtain without looking like full-fledged “Handmaid’s Tale” despots. The loser has been the pro-choice movement, which lacks the galvanizing effect of a 100% abortion ban.

If SCOTUS overrules the FDA and kills mifepristone, the pressure-release valve gets closed — and not just in the 28 states that currently ban abortion. Medication abortion, the easiest and therefore most common type of abortion, vanishes in all 50 states. In an election year, the mere effort to ban mifepristone may be sufficient to enrage liberal voters. If it succeeds, watch out. Abortion rights aren’t currently a top issue for left-leaning voters, but an actual ban could spur even disgruntled progressives to turn out for Democrats about whom they otherwise might not have felt enthused.

What should the two parties have done instead?

In an ideal world, Democratic prosecutors and investigators would have coordinated their efforts, bypassing novel legal theories like AG Bragg’s that are politically flimsy and unlikely to lead to conviction in favor of rock-solid charges like business fraud and instigating a riot. Now that an indictment appears to be forthcoming, Democrats could have assumed a sober mean, pointing out the sad necessity of having to book a former president like a common criminal. They shouldn’t be jumping up and down like overstimulated infants.

Republicans, on the other hand, should have taken a breather on their fight against abortion. Had they waited a few years to let the new bifurcated legal normal to take hold, the pro-choice movement would have lost momentum as dispirited partisans drifted away having accepted defeat. Eventually, with Americans accustomed to abortion as less legal and rarer, they could have moved forward to ban all forms of abortion nationwide. Slow and steady, the same way economic conservatism was built up from the grass roots over decades following Goldwater’s 1964 rout, might have won this race.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis

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