Yesterday morning, just as the New York Times prepared to publish a 5,000-word profile of Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis’s “progressive ideology,” the candidate announced support of a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Now, the Times calls that switch an offer of “nuance,” attempting to explain the pivot.
Davis rose to prominence on a national level as a Texas State Senator when, last summer, she filibustered against a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. Back then, the New York Times spread the story, then considered true, about how Davis paid for her education and called her an “overnight sensation,” ready to move on to big things.
Robert Draper’s feature in the New York Times yesterday continued that trajectory, with a profile lauding Davis’s “politically exquisite” life story that has been publicly debunked and highlighting her commitment to supporting abortion. Draper notes that her positions are “in keeping with progressive ideology,” particularly on that issue. The profile also buried a number of interesting new facts about Davis in a larger conversation about gender, like the fact that Davis held a no-show job at her ex-husband’s company for years and that she considered George W. Bush, to whom she had donated campaign funds, a “uniter.”
The feature was published on the same day that the Dallas Morning News, which had originally broken the story of Davis’s false life story, published an interview in which Davis said she supported a ban on late-term abortions. The announcement was met on the right the same way her announcement of support for open carry laws and medical marijuana were: with snickering at her lamentably inept campaign. Some who once supported her filibuster reacted with honest revulsion– most notable Gawker’s Adam Weinstein, who derided Davis’s stance as “not progressive at all” and “a safe vote for the status quo with a ‘D’ next to it.“
The New York Times has not reacted with remotely the same tenor of righteous ire at Davis’s betrayal, nor does there seem to be an attempt to point out the significance of such a move. Instead, the paper appears to be trying to reconcile the new Wendy Davis with the woman they just profiled. “Wendy Davis, Texas Candidate, Offers Nuance On Abortion View,” reads the headline today. The Times’ follow-up on the topic presents Davis as–wait for it–a victim of a flawed conservative political system in which Democratic candidates in Texas must move right in order to appeal to the median voter in the state.
Author Manny Fernandez claims that the new statements are “largely consistent” with her original stance on abortion, only tailored for a “balancing act” that Democrats face in the state. The post quotes James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, as saying that the pivot does not show that Democrats have “got the wrong candidate,” but perhaps that she was “listening to the wrong advice.”
How the Davis campaign develops in the next couple of days is anyone’s guess, as the strategy appears to be to make up political stances ad hoc that have nothing to do with the official campaign platform. She has yet to beat Republican opponent Greg Abbott in a poll, and Abbott raised more than three times the amount of money as Davis in January.
But some elements of the national left that jumped into this race last June during her filibuster seem unwilling to let Davis sink herself or backtrack on their support of her. The Times, at least, appears to have found a way to frame the story that makes them appear less wrong–and, as a result, Davis more consistent. Too bad the attempt is so paper-thin.