GOP’s Electoral Strategy: Cheat

The Republican Party’s post-midterm electoral strategy demonstrates an alarming disregard for democracy. In several states, GOP leaders have decided to undo the results of last month’s elections to insure that Republican-enacted measures cannot be repealed and to weaken the power of incoming Democratic state officials. Post-election, Republican officials are changing the rules, using methods reminiscent of European countries edging toward autocracy, such as Hungary and Poland.

Paul Weyrich

The tilt toward anti-democratic tactics is not new for Republicans. For several decades, Republican leaders nationally and in the states have tried to suppress voter turnout among Democratic-leaning groups — the young, the poor, and minorities.  In 1980, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, admitted, “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Before the recent midterm elections, Republican officials in Georgia, North Dakota, and Kansas tried to limit voting as a means to preserve GOP power in those states. 

Where suppressing the vote failed, Republicans are now trying to undo Democratic victories. Perhaps, the most notorious anti-democratic actions are occurring in Wisconsin, once the laboratory for democracy in the Robert La Follette years during the Progressive Era. The Republican-controlled legislature in the Badger State is considering legislation that would prevent the new Democratic governor, Tony Evers, from making good on a promise to withdraw from a lawsuit attacking Obamacare. Republicans have proposed other measures restricting Evers’ powers, and they also want to limit the power of the new Democratic attorney general.

Scott Walker, Republican governor of Wisconsin who lost his bid for a third term.

Wisconsin Republicans suffered a shellacking in the recent election, which might prompt them, one would think, to find better ways to throw a wider net and appeal to more voters. But, in fact, party leaders have proposed new restrictions on early voting, even though a similar measure was declared unconstitutional two years ago because of its obviously partisan tilt. Republican anti-democratic electoral laws have a long history in Wisconsin. The party enacted a strict voter-ID bill in 2011; passed a law in 2017 to disband the non-partisan elections board after it looked into the campaign practices of Republican Governor Scott Walker; and created one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. This year, Republicans won 46 percent of the vote yet occupy 63 percent of the seats in the state Assembly.

Robin Vos, Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly.

Republican leaders are not trying to hide their motives. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the GOP wants to protect legislation accomplished under Walker in the last eight years. “We do not believe any one individual should have the opportunity to come in and with a stroke of the pen… eliminate laws passed by our Legislature,” Vos said. He cited the voter ID law, among other legislation. Of course, the new governor is the governor of all the people who voted for him and is elected to serve all the people of Wisconsin. But, apparently, that does not matter to Wisconsin Republicans. 

In Michigan, the story is similar. Republican legislators are considering bills to strip the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general of power, and the lawmakers have proposed legislation to give themselves control over court cases involving the state, previously the role of the executive branch of the state government. In addition, the Republican-dominated legislature is trying to gut popular citizen-initiated laws that mandated paid sick leave and increased the state’s minimum wage for all workers. 

Mark Harris

Similar attempts to undo the results of the 2018 elections have been undertaken in Missouri and Ohio, and in North Carolina, where an ugly Republican power-stripping attempt occurred in 2016, there is evidence that the congressional campaign of Mark Harris engaged in widespread voter fraud. House Democratic leaders say they may not seat the Republican Harris if North Carolina certifies his election. “If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris being seated until that is resolved,” said Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who will be the majority whip in the incoming House of Representatives.  

What Republicans are doing is not lawmaking as usual, nor is it a reflection of the normal right-versus-left, liberal-conservative divide in American politics. Republicans may be wrong on tax policy, trade initiatives, immigration, healthcare, abortion, gun control, and many other issues, but there is nothing inherently anti-democratic about their positions on these issues. And, in some instances, Republicans may have a valid point about shifting the power of the executive-versus-legislative branches of government. Except, of course, Republicans in Wisconsin, in particular, saw no virtue in curbing the power of the governor when the party controlled both branches of the state government. Only when Democrats won the governorship did Republicans become ardent defenders of the people’s branch of government. 

Expect more Republican anti-democratic actions in the future as the voting population becomes younger, more urban, and minority-dominated. The presidency of Donald Trump has accelerated a trend that has been ongoing for a number of years: The flight of young, minority, female, and college-educated voters from the GOP. Saddled with Trump, whose poll numbers have been falling, Republicans may well conclude that their only options are to prevent likely Democratic voters from casting ballots and engage in power grabs wherever possible. 

Of course, a party chastened by the recent electoral results might consider ways to appeal to voters who no longer support it. But, that is not the case. As The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin put it, “There has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout.” Instead, many Republicans seem to think thievery and cheating are the best ways to remain in power. 

Perhaps, they simply think they are entitled to power. So much for democracy!

Posted December 7, 2018

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