The inflation vs. abortion, borders vs. democracy election

The 2024 election is a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, but it will be a repeat in other ways, too.

This year’s race is shaping up to be a contest over a handful of dominant issues, with inflation and the border benefiting Republicans while Democrats see abortion and what they describe as protecting democracy as key.

Two of these defining issues came into focus on Wednesday as inflation came in hotter than expected and Trump doubled down on his pledge not to sign legislation that could be construed as a “national abortion ban.”

The inflation news came amid speculation about whether the Federal Reserve could lower interest rates soon enough to help Biden in the general election. Trump’s move followed Arizona becoming the second battleground state where abortion will effectively be on the ballot this November, potentially upending the former president’s bid to neutralize the issue by punting it to the states.


But uncontrolled immigration, especially at the southern border, remains a huge liability for Biden. And Democrats will continue to press the case that democracy is at stake if Trump were to return to the White House, particularly if paired with Republican congressional majorities.

Democrats feel good because they won, or at least not so badly lost, the midterm elections on this mix of issues. They were able to pound the table on abortion and democracy at a time when inflation was even worse and the border at least as chaotic.

Republicans won the popular vote but only managed to cobble together a narrow House majority that has since been slimmed down further. The GOP also lost a seat in the Senate, all without Trump (or Biden) on the ballot.

But Biden and Trump being on the ballot may improve Republican fortunes. The former president and presumptive GOP nominee is polling better than he ever has, including the election he won in 2016. It’s possible that lower-propensity working-class voters will turn out in higher numbers for Trump than down-ballot Republicans in either the midterm elections or recent special elections, just as was the case for parts of the Democratic coalition under Barack Obama.

Similarly, Biden in 2022 was able to make the midterm elections a binary choice between “MAGA Republicans” and Democrats rather than a referendum on himself. That playbook could work again this year. Or Biden may find it harder to make the election about other people while he is on the ballot, with voters having not sufficiently taken out their frustration at the White House on Democrats two years ago.

Other issues have also emerged, especially abroad. The war in Ukraine has deteriorated since 2022. Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza has more recently divided Democrats, with some progressives accusing Biden of being complicit in genocide. A combination of these voters staying home, voting third-party, or even pulling the lever for Trump could flip states such as Michigan back into the Republican column.

At the same time, Trump is clearly spooked about abortion. He rolled out a statement earlier this week saying that states should set policy on this issue following the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Then Arizona’s state Supreme Court upheld a strict Civil War-era abortion law in the state. Trump expressed his approval and reiterated he would not sign federal legislation banning abortion if it reached his desk, risking a wider rift with the anti-abortion movement.

Biden’s campaign has nevertheless tried to cast doubt on Trump’s reassurances. “Trump lies constantly — about everything — but has one track record: banning abortion every chance he gets,” Biden-Harris communications director Michael Tyler said in a statement. “The guy who wants to be a dictator on day one will use every tool at his disposal to ban abortion nationwide, with or without Congress, and running away from reporters to his private jet like a coward doesn’t change that reality.”  

Team Biden also recirculated a Media Matters item accusing the press of “sanitizing” Trump’s abortion position, “this time by obscuring evidence that he would sign a national abortion ban.”


“If it is a day that ends in ‘Y,’ DISHONEST Joe Biden and his team are lying,” the Trump campaign shot back in a statement (emphasis in the original). The Trump response went on to say that Biden “supports aborting an unborn child up until the moment of birth and even after birth — he also wants to make American taxpayers pay for it.”

What will happen in November remains in doubt. But the terrain on which 2024 will be fought is crystal clear.

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