Has a sitting president ever lobbied for a boycott of a state before? Trump sporadically egged on boycotts of individual corporations, like when he said he wouldn’t watch the NFL if players kneeled and encouraged motorcycle enthusiasts to shun Harley-Davidson if the company moved manufacturing overseas.
But even at the height of the “stop the steal” insanity, I can’t recall him calling for a boycott of an entire state. And if he did call for one at some point in his presidency, I guarantee that critics responded by lambasting him for being divisive and unpresidential.
I wondered whether Obama had ever endorsed a state boycott over some law that had the left exercised, so I did some googling. The most promising candidate was the immigration statute that Arizona passed early in his presidency, which progressives attacked as draconian. They organized boycotts against the state at the time to try to pressure them into repealing it. Had Obama ever commented on that? He did, it turns out. Quote:
At his press conference today, President Obama was asked if he endorses boycotts of Arizona by cities and others that object to the state’s controversial immigration law.
“I’m the president of the United States, I don’t endorse boycotts or not endorse boycotts,” he replied. “That’s something that private citizens can make a decision about.”
The current president feels differently. We’re 69 days into his term and already he’s proved to be more aggressively progressive on spending than his former boss. Looks like he’ll be more aggressive in trying to pressure private entities into becoming political actors too:
Biden in ESPN interview says he would strongly support MLB relocating the all-star game from Atlanta over the Georgia law.pic.twitter.com/xGBzsFoD6e
— Christopher Cadelago (@ccadelago) April 1, 2021
Bad enough that he’d use the bully pulpit to try to wage economic war on a state whose policies he disagrees with but he continues to have his facts about Georgia’s law wrong — even after fact-checkers have corrected him. Georgia’s not closing its polling places at 5 p.m. to make it harder for working people to vote. They’re requiring 9-to-5 hours during early voting and giving counties the option to extend those hours from 7-to-7. Election Day itself will remain 7-to-7. The new law also requires counties to hold two Saturdays of early voting and gives them the option to hold two Sundays, which is more than the law previously required.
Brian Kemp reminded Biden in an op-ed yesterday that his own home state is more restrictive in certain ways than Georgia is:
They will of course ignore that President Biden’s home state of Delaware does not currently have early voting options for its citizens, while SB 202 guarantees at least 17 days of early voting access with the option of an additional two Sundays.
They will also forget to mention that Georgia – unlike Delaware – continues to have no-excuse absentee balloting and secured ballot drop boxes statewide.
There are reasons to dislike the new law. It cuts way back on when voters can request an absentee ballot, from six months in advance to 11 weeks. It replaces signature matching with identification numbers as a way of verifying those ballots, which is good in that it’s more objective and bad in that may pose a hardship for poorer people who haven’t yet gotten a state ID. It degrades the power of the secretary of state over the State Election Board and gives that power to the state legislature, which smells in light of Trump’s attempts after the election to have the legislature intervene somehow and stop Brad Raffensperger from certifying Biden’s victory. And most of all, by making so many changes to the electoral process in the aftermath of the “stop the steal” fiasco, it feeds the belief that there was something irregular or suspicious about the Democrats’ victories there last year. There wasn’t, but who can blame anyone in Georgia for looking at the new law and thinking there must have been lots of problems in November if this many “solutions” were required?
Even so, the law is far more restrained than it could have been. No-excuse absentee voting is still on the books. Drop boxes are now mandatory in certain polling places. Even the infamous provision about not letting activists electioneer outside polling places by handing out water to voters in line is easily gotten around. Biden wheezing about “Jim Crow on steroids” is so hysterically over the top that it can only be boilerplate, a talking point to be recited rather than an argument to be made. No one who’s engaged with the details of what the law does would be able to say that with a straight face unless their memory of what Jim Crow was is blinkered.
As for the politics of this, it’s an … interesting play by the president to openly egg on economic warfare against a key swing state he won by a few thousand votes in November. Some Georgia Democrats are already nudging critics of the new law to rethink, whatever their moral objections to it may be:
James…we here in GA fought like hell the last 4 years to turn it blue. We gave you two Dem Senators. Your boycott only hurts us, the thousands of rank & film actors & crew. Think before you cancel. Please. We’ve worked too hard.
— Steve Coulter (@coulter28) March 26, 2021
All it would take to flip Georgia back to red is 20,000 or so centrist Biden voters in the state turning on him for his efforts to hurt their livelihoods over a law they had nothing to do with.
This is good news for Brian Kemp, though, no? His career is probably unsalvageable after Trump attacked him repeatedly during the “stop the steal” saga, but having a big public fight with the sitting Democratic president over an election law passed by Republicans is about as good as a chance at rehabilitation gets. Frankly, a boycott might be good for him too inasmuch as it would give him a chance to impress primary voters by showing his resolve in the face of a lefty onslaught. Whether general election voters would be as impressed after the state’s economy takes a hit is another matter.