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The Senate Democrats are filibustering a bill to aid victims of sex trafficking, demanding that any help to victims of sex trafficking must be bundled with (extremely unpopular) government funding of abortion. This is not just appalling. The Senate Democrat position should damage the party's political success—but it won't. The combination of mainstream media sympathy for the Democrats, lack of interest from the establishment right, and the organizational weakness of the populist right means that the Senate Democrats will pay a very small political price for what ought to be a public relations disaster.

The unpopularity of the Democratic position on (not) helping sex trafficking victims and putting government-funded abortion first only hurts the Democrats if swing voters hear about it. These are people who are not pro-abortion radicals, but who also do not consume conservative media like talk radio and Fox News. The Democrats are betting (probably correctly), that these swing voters will hear little or nothing about this issue (and what they do hear will be a mess about how Republicans, something something, not helping stop sex trafficking, something something, Republicans, abortion).

The mainstream media is largely made up of people who think that government funding of abortion and helping victims of sex trafficking are two great things that go great together. But they also know enough about public opinion dynamics to understand that focusing on these issues would tend to injure the case of pro-abortion radicalism. It is easier to rationalize the issue as too “inside baseball” for the general public (unlike easy-to-understand stories about the debt ceiling?) and talk about something else.

The center-right could force the issue into the public debate with paid media to ensure that swing voters heard about the issue in a Republican-friendly way. At that point, the mainstream media would discover that the issue wasn't so boring after all and start to cover the issue in detail so as to offer some pro-abortion and pro-Democrat “context.” But that’s OK. As long as the media are covering the issue in detail (and the conventions of most mainstream media is that they have to give the Republicans some kind of say in the course of lengthy stories), the Democrats are losing the public relations battle.

The required media buy would be a small fraction of the hundreds of millions of donor dollars that will be spent next year as Republican candidates pummel each other over the precise date on which any one of them pretended to change their mind about amnesty. But this ad buy will almost certainly not happen.

The elite Republican donor class has an allergy to social issues even on an instrumental level. The establishment left understands that defeating Republican candidates on social issues benefits the political left as a whole. One less pro-life Republican also means one less Republican. It means one more vote for Obama's economic agenda. The Republican elite just doesn't want to see that one less radical pro-abortion Democrat is one less Democrat and one more supporter of (relatively) smaller government. The Republican elite ends up missing one opportunity after another.

The Republican populists probably have better instincts on this kind of issue, but they lack the institutions and social trust required to reach out to the general public. To the extent that Republicans have a donor base, the money is spent on nonsense like that phony draft Ben Carson committee. Tea Party groups (to the extent that they are not scams) are focused on organizing the already-committed rather than reaching out to the persuadable voters who don't consume conservative media.

The result of all of this is that the Democrats can be as radically socially liberal as they want and never pay the price with swing voters. It isn't a new thing. Obama got away with opposing legal protections for newborns. Who was going to effectively call him out for his extremism and dishonesty? Nobody.

Pete Spiliakos is a columnist for First Things. His previous articles can be found here.

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