Politics & Policy

Whither Wendy Davis?

(Eric Kayne/Getty Images)
She deserves to join the ranks of utter flops, but better pastures await.

If you happen to be in Texas on November 5, the day after voters head to the ballot box, fear not. That Lonestar State–sized whooshing noise you hear will be the sound of Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial campaign disappearing down the memory hole.

Last week, Wendy Davis, three-term state senator from the Fort Worth area, famous for a failed filibuster against an abortion restriction already on the books in a dozen other states, was polling at 32 percent. That was before she released an ad questioning her opponent’s commitment to the legality of interracial marriage — her opponent, Republican Greg Abbott, whose wife is Hispanic. (In Davis’s defense, she had already run the ad emphasizing his paralysis. Options were limited.)

Republicans expected that Davis’s bid for governor would go nowhere. But the slow-motion seppuku that has been the Davis campaign has surpassed even the most optimistic expectations. It has been nothing short of schadenfreude-tastic.

As Davis’s electoral prospects approach Mondale territory, a quick glance at the highlight reel seems in order.

After earning national adoration for courageously defending the “right” of women to slay their unborn children at will, Davis modeled the pink sneakers she’d worn in her filibuster for several publications — Vogue, for instance, and Texas Monthly — before leveraging her footwear fame into a gubernatorial run. The primary should have been the first indication that she was in serious trouble: Greg Abbott earned 1.2 million Republican votes in his primary. Only 554,000 Democrats even voted.

There was the revelation that Davis, ostensibly once a “single, teenage mother” living in a “trailer park,” inhabited those circumstances at most a grand total of three months, and that she had left her second husband the day after he paid her final Harvard Law School bill. Feminists eager to reiterate that women need men like fish need a bicycle conspicuously ignored how Davis rode her husband’s income through Harvard Law.

If there was any question whether Davis was a political opportunist — or, at the very least, fantastically un-self-aware — the answer became unmistakable when, just seven months after filibustering a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, she said that she would support a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

There was Davis’s conveniently timed memoir, Forgetting to Be Afraid, in which readers were treated to the theretofore-unrevealed news that Davis had had two abortions.

There was Davis’s now-infamous “wheelchair ad,” which accused Greg Abbott of sometimes opposing the legal claims of disabled plaintiffs — an apparently unconscionable act for a disabled man who had pursued legal claims of his own.

And, after Abbott refused to answer a question about a hypothetical ban on interracial marriage, noting that “the job of an attorney general is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is the state legislature,” Davis tweeted an image that read “Greg Abbott Refuses to Say If He Would Defend an Interracial Marriage Ban,” and the words: “Here’s what’s at stake in this election.” Texas’s “progressive” candidate is tackling laws that were ruled unconstitutional in 1967.

Alas, for all of this, Davis will never join the ranks of legendary flops such as Todd Akin and Christine O’Donnell — who were objectively, by contrast, exemplars of competence. Davis’s totemic status as a female defender of on-demand abortion in Texas’s Republican fever swamps will insulate her from complete ignominy — despite the fact that a campaign is only as good as its candidate, and this campaign has been a train wreck. The question is, Whither Wendy Davis now?

In a responsible body politic, she would disappear from the public eye, take a behind-the-scenes job with Emily’s List or NARAL, give a speech at the occasional Planned Parenthood abortion jamboree, maybe write a(nother) memoir. But that would require a Democratic party with a sense of shame — one that recognizes that the Davis campaign was an embarrassment, and that the problem started at the top. That is not likely.

Instead, Wendy Davis will be the victim: of Texas politics, of the GOP, of Fox News, of glass ceilings and patriarchy. And she will be trotted out as a victim, to decry on Hardball and All In with Chris Hayes the treatment of women (not including Sarah Palin, of course) in politics, and to remind lawmakers, with the eloquence she demonstrated on the floor of the Texas senate, that they should “get out of the vagina business.” That scenario is hardly far-fetched: An Ace of Spades reporter says three separate Texas Democratic insiders have told him Davis is “looking for an MSNBC gig.”

When all memory of Davis’s campaign vanishes in a bout of collective amnesia on November 5, unfortunately, Davis is unlikely to go, too. That’s a perk of being a Democrat in politics. Even the losers win.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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