Stacey Abrams and the Democrats’ Quest for Their Next Superhero

By Aaron Kliegman

“Pandemonium ensues as she walks to the far left of the stage, like a runway supermodel, stops on a dime, poses, tilts her head slightly, and smiles. Camera flashes explode. She … is summoning her inner actress.”

No, that’s not an excerpt from an article in Glamour or Cosmopolitan on a celebrity posing at some glamorous movie premiere.

Actually, it’s a quote from a lengthy profile in the Washington Post, an allegedly serious newspaper, on Stacey Abrams, describing her speaking at a conference center in Atlanta.

Abrams has been the subject of numerous similarly fawning, cringeworthy puff pieces in the past few days. (One article in the New York Times explains how Abrams is “making politics a little less fake.”) As journalist Zaid Jilani said, the media is covering Abrams, an African-American woman, as if she is “celebrity news,” simply presenting her words as fact and “just seeing her as an archetype of demographics.”

Amid this wave of adulation, perhaps most striking is a picture in the Post’s profile that seems, no joke, to portray Abrams as a superhero with a cape.

This praise comes as Abrams wages a very public, rather off-putting campaign to persuade Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, to choose her as his running mate.

Abrams, 46, is certainly not being coy and hiding her ambitions. Indeed, her campaign to be the Democratic vice-presidential candidate has recently gone into hyperdrive.

“Yes, I would be willing to serve,” Abrams said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked whether she would be the best running mate for Biden. She told Elle that she would make an “excellent running mate,” adding, “If I am selected, I am prepared and excited to serve.” Abrams also told the New Yorker that she would be willing to help Biden “not only win an election but to govern.” And she recently appeared alongside Biden himself one night on MSNBC.

The story of Abrams’s rise to political stardom is bizarre. For starters, what does she do for a living? It seems like a basic question that shouldn’t be difficult to answer, especially for a high-profile person seeking the vice presidency. Yet it takes a few minutes of research to find an answer, even for someone who writes about politics and policy for a living.

Apparently, Abrams founded Fair Fight, a political action committee that “promotes fair elections” in Georgia and elsewhere. The organization’s biggest donor is billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who donated $5 million — a fact that somehow hasn’t blown up Abrams’s status as a progressive darling of the political left.

Abrams also founded multiple other organizations last year, each focused on advocacy. That she supposedly heads all of them is a strong sign that she does little day-to-day — if Abrams was an actual executive director, then she presumably wouldn’t have time to launch so many groups.

In short, Abrams is a professional political activist. But more than that, her actual job is, to quote Tucker Carlson, “being professionally aggrieved.” Indeed, Abrams has somehow managed to make losing an election not only her chief professional achievement but also a rallying cry and major public issue for Democrats.

Abrams previously worked in the Georgia House of Representatives, a part-time legislature, serving as minority leader (the highest office she has ever attained) for much of her tenure. Then, in 2018, Abrams ran for governor and lost by 55,000 votes — a narrow but decisive loss. Yet, Abrams refused to concede, repeatedly alleging, to this day, that she was the victim of a Republican, racist plot to suppress minority voting.

At the time of the election, however, Georgia was in full compliance with requirements of the National Voter Registration Act. It was easier for voters to register by mail than ever before. In 2014, then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who defeated Abrams in the 2018 gubernatorial election, introduced online voter registration. Residents could even use apps on their smartphones to register. Yes, some voters were removed from voter rolls, but only those who failed to vote in two more general elections after notices were sent out in the mail — in other words, after years of not voting. “Inactive” voters could still vote at their polling place, and people improperly removed from the rolls could still vote with a provisional ballot. Plus, anyone can always re-register to vote.

Georgia actually had the most registered voters in its history in 2018, and voter turnout was quite high. Plus, minorities made up a high percentage of total turnout, especially African-Americans. The Republicans did not steal the election from Abrams; Georgians just didn’t elect her.

Watching Abrams carry her loss as a badge of honor and twist it somehow into a political asset has been strange. Watching Democrats embrace her narrative has been even weirder. But here we are.

Lost in all this chaos has been Abrams’s radical political views and her limited experience.

Take gun control, for example. In 2016, Abrams co-sponsored a bill in the Georgia House of Representatives that would ban assault weapons, large capacity magazines, and armor-piercing bullets and allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to “seize and take possession of” them. If Abrams had her way and the bill became law, residents of Georgia would have 90 days to destroy their guns or “surrender such assault weapon or large capacity magazine” to the GBI. As for those who refuse to do either, the legislation would “designate certain weaponry and ammunition as contraband” and “require seizure [emphasis mine] of such” by the bureau.

And the bill expanded the definition of “assault weapons” to include some semiautomatic pistols and shotguns, not just rifles like the AR-15 — which Abrams calls a “weapon of mass destruction” (the same category as nuclear and biological weapons).

When pushed in interviews to explain whether she supports the confiscation of guns, Abrams has dodged the question, simply saying that the bill was about “starting a conversation.”

Abrams, who says she “believes in identity politics,” has also said that illegal immigrants are part of her base of support and suggested that illegal immigrants should be able to vote in elections. Moreover, she has indicated she wants to move toward single-payer health insurance, a policy that would cost tens of trillions of dollars and require historically high tax hikes.

Because Biden’s age and mental fitness for office are genuine concerns, his choice for running mate is critically important. Indeed, Biden may just be a caretaker who, if elected, would occupy the White House for just one term, preparing his vice president for the top job. This means Abrams’s campaign for vice president is all the more noteworthy.

The hoopla surrounding Abrams is reminiscent of the media and elitist left’s fawning over Beto O’Rourke during his failed bid for the Senate in 2018. Journalists, Hollywood celebrities, young liberal activists — they all gushed over O’Rourke. They treated him as part rock star and part political savior. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has enjoyed somewhat similar, although more short-lived and less intense, treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.)

Democrats and their allies in the media seem to be searching for their next rock star after Barack Obama, jumping from person to person as they see potential. Most Democrats enjoyed the highest of highs during Obama’s presidency and the lowest of lows when he left office. They are desperately trying to recapture that ideological euphoria but can’t find it.

The irony is that Obama left almost no legacy in terms of enduring policies or political transformations. Sure, Obamacare was something, but with the individual mandate gone, it is largely neutered.  The nuclear deal with Iran, his other supposedly big achievement, is dead. Obama’s supporters will say he saved the economy from the financial crisis of 2008, but, regardless of the facts, no one will remember the 2009 stimulus package as anything close to FDR’s New Deal in terms of significance. Furthermore, Obama was unable to initiate a liberal ascendancy, perhaps his chief political goal, as Ronald Reagan initiated a conservative ascendancy that lasted for decades.

Ultimately, Obama is more of a rock star, a celebrity, even a superhero to Democrats than anything else — but one who brought political success. Since Obama left office, Democrats have been desperate to find his successor. Abrams is not that successor. As Rich Lowry notes in his latest column, she won’t appeal to working-class swing voters and suburban women. It seems unlikely that Biden will pick her as his running mate. But whether Biden chooses Abrams or not, her political stardom will likely fade quickly as it did with O’Rourke.

Abrams may be good at playing victim and turning defeat into a weapon, but in the end, politics is about winning. After a while, trumpeting one’s electoral defeat loses its appeal. Eventually, Abrams will lose her superpowers. But the quest for the next Democratic superhero will continue.

Aaron Kliegman is a freelance writer based in Virginia. Previously, he was a staff writer and news editor at the Washington Free Beacon, where he wrote analysis and commentary on foreign policy and national security. Aaron’s work has been published in a range of publications, and he has a master’s degree in international relations. Aaron is now writing regular columns for the Inner Circle as a contributor, and I am excited to have him on the Gingrich 360 team. — Newt