I'm in New Hampshire for a couple of months. For someone who's lived in a bastion of liberalism, New York City, for almost 30 years, it's been a rude awakening to see all the Trump flags rippling on the back of pickups and unnerving to notice the plethora of bumper stickers that blare "Fuck Biden" and "Let's Go, Brandon" among other profanity-filled paraphernalia.
One of the more jolting things I see daily as I keep CNN and MSNBC on in the background while I work is a primary ad for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chuck Morse. His ads bellow that he will not support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, that he will stop immigrants from crossing the border, and that he will finish building Donald Trump's wall. New Hampshire is over 3,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Each time the ad airs, I check the calendar to make sure that it's 2022 and not 2016.
But if you think that's bad, it gets worse. Morse sounds like the more levelheaded Republican Senate candidate compared to Don Bolduc, a retired Army general who asserts that Trump won the 2020 election. Bolduc is far ahead of Morse in the polls, and as I'm writing this, a pickup truck with a Trump flag just fluttered by my window. I kid you not. No wonder Bolduc is ahead as they vie for the nomination to run against the incumbent, Democrat Maggie Hassan.
Don't get me wrong. I love New Hampshire, but I'm less enthralled by the exuberance for Trump. Regardless of who wins, the messaging from either Morse or Bolduc, who both support restrictions on abortion, will all be about looking back, not forward. They are just a microcosm of the weak Republican candidates running for office during this midterm.
Let's start with J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Ohio. He seems to be slow-walking his race. Vance has almost vanished from the campaign trail, going days without anything on his schedule. Moreover, since it's always about the money, Vance hasn't even done much to build up a war chest, and he's being vastly outspent by his opponent, Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan.
"J.D. is running a campaign where the faithful in the state, the county chairmen, the precinct executives, the executive committee, and the Republican Party are saying, 'Where's J.D.?'" Bill Cunningham, a conservative radio talk show host in Cincinnati, recently told CNN. "And they want him to do things. People want to meet him. They want to. This is a new guy, new kid on the block."
Remember, this is the same guy who tore Trump apart when Trump was running for the presidency in 2016, yet when Vance saw the opportunity to become a U.S. senator, he somehow boasted about how close he was to Trump and that he thought Trump was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Is it possible that, facing a general election, Vance feels Trump now is more like burnt toast?
That's what happened with Blake Masters, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from Arizona. During the primary, he was all "Trump, Trump, Trump." Trump even endorsed Masters. He was the second coming of Trump until the day after the primary, which he won, when he wasn't. Masters flipped faster than a crisping flapjack, denying that he was 100 percent "pro-life" and wiping his website clean of Trump and the assertion that the 2020 election was a farce. It was as if the word "Trump" was spam and Masters's team deployed malware to expunge it from his website.
Georgia's Republican U.S. Senate nominee, Herschel Walker, can't hear the forest through the trees when it comes to hearing the facts about climate change; Walker will never be confused with a horticulturalist. "They continue to try to fool you like they're helping you out, but they're not," he said at a recent event, discussing a new law aimed at fighting climate change. "They're not helping you out, because a lot of the money is going into trees. You know that, don't you? It's going into trees. We've got enough trees. Don't we have enough trees around here?"
Either Walker doesn't understand climate change or his world doesn't expand outside of Georgia, where some places around the country and the world don't have trees because of droughts and floods.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. Senate nominee, is indeed worldly, i.e. his crudite spread. He has been tone-deaf and indecisive for most of the campaign, just like he was on his show. Oz never met a wild elixir that he couldn't endorse. I'm sure if he had been around Granny Clampett's rheumatism medicine, he'd have his face next to the "XXX" on the jug.
Now this so-called doctor can't seem to make up his mind about abortion. This week it was revealed that in May, while running in the primary, Dr. Oz said this: "I do believe life starts at conception, and I've said that multiple times. If life starts at conception, why do you care what stage our hearts starts beating at? It's, you know, it's still murder, if you were to terminate a child whether their heart's beating or not."
The ob-gyn in Oz is adamant that life begins at conception, under any and all circumstances. And his comments leave no wiggle room, right? Well, no, according to an email from his campaign spokesperson to NBC News, which said, "Dr. Oz is pro-life and supports exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother."
If you're a woman looking for sound medical advice, you might want to watch season 7, episode 6 of The Beverly Hillbillies, where Granny Clampett flew to Hooterville to help deliver Betty Jo Elliott's baby. That's much safer than relying on a vacillating Dr. Oz.
And his view on abortion, like that of so many in his party, has Democrats, particularly women, lining up in droves to register to vote. At least that's the view from an expert pollster. Tom Bonier caused a media firestorm when he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times,"Women Are So Fired Up to Vote, I've Never Seen Anything Like It." Bonier feels they are being driven because of the Supreme Courts ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that threatens abortion rights in states across the country.
"For sure, it's absolutely the abortion issue. It's the focal point that has allowed this issue to break through all of the media clutter," Bonier said during a phone call I had with him late last week. "After the midterms, and recognizing public opinion against Dobbs, some Republican candidates are trying to distance themselves from abortion after supporting Dobbs during the primaries."
Bonier senses that Republicans are being inundated by controversies. "Besides trying to duck Dobbs, they are also dealing with the powerful performance and findings of the January 6committee, the Mar-a-Lago documents scandal, and facing the fact that Trump and all his troubles are dominating the news," he said.
"Still, so many of them still are trying to style themselves in the mold of Trump, like Walker in Georgia and Bolduc in New Hampshire. There's still that loyalty to Trump, above all else, that is in the middle of some of these races, which makes it difficult for Republicans to talk about issues, so they've tried to create fervor around social issues, like critical race theory that worked in Virginia last year, but it's not having the same effect this year."
That has left the door open for abortion to be front and center. Our favorite U.S. senator, Lindsey Graham, introduced a bill Tuesday that would make abortion illegal after 15 weeks across the United States. You won't be surprised to learn, however, that he previously said that abortion should be left to the states.
This was Graham's idea of somehow uniting Republicans who are twisting themselves in knots over how to handle abortion during their midterm campaigns. You also won't be surprised to know that instead of them coalescing around the bill, Republicans are shocked, primarily because there's no appetite for a national bill. Just imagine if you do live in a bastion of liberalism, like New York, but there would be a national law that severely restricts the right to choose. Graham has turned the hot issue of abortion into a five-alarm fire.
"I know it's so overused, but it's like the old metaphor, the Republican dog caught up with the car, so now what?" Bonier said. "They have successfully dangled the issue for decades to motivate the base. Now they have it after 50 years, and it appears to be deeply damaging. So some are trying to back off, particularly the moderates. And bills banning abortion are popping up in states, even though it went down in a landslide in hot red Kansas."
While Bonier is seeing women reacting to the abortion ruling by registering to vote in droves, is it a predictor for a blue wave in November? "That remains to be seen," Bonier explained. "Taken all together, the January 6 hearings have been incredibly effective, and it has raised awareness about the fragility of our democracy and how close we came to subversion by Trump and his advisers, so Democrats are becoming more energized on that issue. That's why you saw Biden's speech in Philadelphia that recognized the seriousness and importance of the moment, and why voters need to get off the sidelines and protect it."
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, Equal Pride.