There have been a plethora of pronouncements about the impending death of the Republican Party. I think the concern is misplaced. We should be talking about the impending death of representative democracy.
Keep in mind that it’s wrong to look at the 2018 midterms and the responses of Trump’s minions (who now are the party) outside the context of what’s happening in the world. Anyway you want to cut it, authoritarians are on the rise, and the United States is not immune.
The warning signs of authoritarian creep include projecting strength (“big brain”), demonizing enemies (“immigrants”), and dismantling institutions. I would argue that Republicans and their Dear Leader are busy working on electoral institutions this year.
Let’s start with California, and take a look at what’s going on in other states.
Politico quotes Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel as calling the California election results “a nuclear political holocaust for Republicans.”
Former vice chair of the California GOP Kristin Olsen, in a widely circulated CalMatters op-ed says the state party is doomed “partly because it has failed to separate itself from today’s toxic, national brand of Republican politics.”
They’re both missing the point.
Johnathan Martin’s article at the New York Times makes the case for the remnants of the party being simply an extension of the President Donald’s ego, with Republicans unwilling to accept this reality either being rendered impotent or cast aside.
… the longest-serving Republican woman in the House, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who is retiring, was more skeptical about the party.
An outspoken critic of Mr. Trump who has represented Miami since 1989, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen noted that previous party autopsies, like the one after its 2012 presidential loss urging more outreach to women and minorities, only “lasted a New York minute.”
Turning to walk into the House chamber to cast one of her final votes this week, she noted that many of her remaining colleagues hail from overwhelmingly conservative districts.
“Where they stand is how they see the world,” Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said. “And the world is not their congressional district. But that’s who’s left. So they’re all dug in. I don’t expect many changes.”
One sentence in the Union-Tribune’s editorial urging the GOP to wake up and smell the coffee gets to the heart of where I believe the party is headed
Yet instead of soul-searching about this slide into irrelevance in a state that would benefit from two strong parties, GOP leaders in and out of California hunt for excuses, hint at conspiracies and hate on democracy.
The conspiracy part of this equation has already been broadcast far and wide. With articles in the mainstream media mostly pointing out the absence of evidence, and advertorials in the right-fringe media repeating Shawn Steele’s talking points.
Michael Hiltzik’s piece titled, California Republicans see what happens when more voters vote, and they don’t like it one bit in the Los Angeles Times captures the totality of this “debate.”
Steel may be right to warn Republicans that they face even stronger head winds in 2020. And he may be right that their ills have something to do with greater enfranchisement in states such as California. But it’s not about fraud — it’s about more voters coming to the polls with reasons to vote against GOP policies.
It’s important to differentiate between voter fraud–which is the pejorative termed used by Republicans to complain about losing– and electoral fraud –which is the way they actually cheat at elections.
Setting aside for the moment the GOP’s penchant for legislative (Gerrymandering, voter id laws) solutions for too much voting, we have a real-life example currently in progress in North Carolina.
North Carolina elections officials have refused to certify the results in the contest for the state’s 9th Congressional district. Republican Mark Harris’ apparent 905 vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready is now being questioned.
From the News Observer:
On Friday, the Associated Press retracted its call of a winner in the race.
The board’s evidentiary hearing is due “to claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots” and “to assure that the election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election,” said Joshua Malcolm, vice chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.
Claims about election fraud center on affidavits saying campaign workers for the Republican candidate manipulated the absentee voter process in predominately minority precincts.
Mail-in ballots requested by African Americans and American Indians never made it in to be counted at rates three and four times higher than white voters.
In one affidavit received by the board, a woman named Emma Shipman said she was visited by a person who claimed to be gathering absentee ballots, WFAE reported.
Shipman said she filled out the form while the woman waited outside. “She took the ballot and put it in an envelope and never sealed it or asked me to sign it. Then she left.”
From Think Progress:
Those reports jive with unexplained discrepancies in the results of absentee ballots. Bladen County saw an unusually high number of absentee ballots submitted for the midterm election, and certain precincts in both Bladen and neighboring Robeson counties had a curious number of absentee ballots that were requested but never submitted.
A local political science professor analyzed election data and found that the two counties accounted for nearly 18 percent of the state’s non-returned absentee ballots, despite being home to less than two percent of the state’s population.
The gaming of elections in 2018 goes beyond rigging election results. In Wisconsin and Michigan, Republicans are busy making sure the will of the electorate is thwarted in other ways.
The lame duck legislature in Wisconsin is seeking sweeping legislation aimed at the incoming Democratic governor before he even takes office, with current Gov. Walker poised to sign away his office’s powers on his way out the door.
From the Associated Press:
The bills up for a public hearing and committee vote Monday, setting the stage for legislative action Tuesday, would move the 2020 presidential primary to help a conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, restrict early voting in way a federal court already disallowed and give the GOP-controlled Legislature the power to sidestep [Democratic Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul] in legal fights.
The proposed legislation could force incoming Democratic Governor Tony Evers to implement punitive Trump-approved Medicaid work requirements, stop him from banning guns from the state capitol, and bar him from taking legal action to defend safety net programs from Republican attacks.
The time for testimony in the “public hearing” on the GOP plan was scheduled to last precisely one minute.
Michigan Republicans have also introduced a proposal to take power away from the newly elected Democratic governor and attorney general before they take office:
From the Detroit News:
With Democrats set to take over top statewide offices next year, Michigan Republicans are considering proposals that would allow the Legislature to intervene in legal battles and shift oversight of the state’s campaign finance law to a new commission.
The lame-duck power plays would limit the power of Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Democrats have not held all three posts since 1990.
Additionally, Republicans in Michigan legislature’s lame duck session moved to neuter ballot measures approved by voters.
The $12 minimum wage proposition will–among other things– be modified to delay implementation until 2030. A measure on paid sick leave will be changed so it no longer applied to 40% of the states workers. And the effort to legalize the recreational use of marijuana would now include a proviso eliminating the portion of the law that allows for any self-growing of marijuana.
We shouldn’t overlook the Grand Old Party’s pre-election shenanigans in Florida, Georgia and other states, where voters who always seemed to be from constituencies (like people of color) who don’t vote for Republicans were swept from the voter registration lists.
So when Republicans can’t win elections, they devise other means to extend their power.
Trump’s Whisperer-in-Chief, Sean Hannity agreed with a caller on his radio program last week who suggested the President should use military tribunals to investigate the Department of Justice. Never mind the Supreme Court’s 1886 ruling limiting military tribunals for civilians to when they are accused of war crimes or participated in a military action against the United States.
All of the above points are relevant in considering Charles Blow’s New York Times column ruminating on the escalating intensity of the investigations into the dirty dealing going on in the 2016 elections.
I also don’t think that Trump would ever voluntarily leave office as Nixon did, even if he felt impeachment was imminent. I’m not even sure that he would willingly leave if he were impeached and the Senate moved to convict, a scenario that is hard to imagine at this point.
I don’t think any of this gets better, even as the evidence becomes clearer. I don’t believe that Trump’s supporters would reverse course in the same way that Nixon’s did. I don’t believe that the facts Mueller presents will be considered unassailable. I don’t believe Trump will go down without bringing the country down with him.
In short, I don’t believe we are reaching the end of a nightmare, but rather we are entering one. This will not get easier, but harder.
Am I being alarmist in my calling out of all these points of darkness on our political landscape?
I don’t think so.
Watch John Oliver’s riff (NSFW) on authoritarian leaders around the world and get back to me.
To be clear, I’m not saying all is lost. I’m saying it ain’t over ’til it’s over.
Countdown to The End. Friday, December 14, will mark the end of this version of the San Diego Free Press, along with this column.
I have been asked about my future plans, and the answer is: I’m still figuring it out. So if you have a niche for my talents, this would be a good time for us to talk.