From Racist Rhetoric to Electoral Games

Republican PanicEarlier today, Jonathan Chait wrote, The GOP’s Anti-Democratic Panic. In it, he calls out David Frum for his recent bit of “both sides now” reporting. In all the major swing states, Republicans have been looking seriously at changing the way their electoral votes are granted—making them determined by (the currently gerrymandered) congressional districts. Frum says this is nothing new because the Democrats tried to do the same thing in Colorado back in 2004.

Chait pointed out two major differences. First, the change would have made the electoral votes proportional, not based upon congressional districts so it would have been much more fair. Second, the idea was neither proposed nor supported by elected officials, even on the local level. “The plan seemed to spring from liberal activists and was opposed by Democratic officials,” Chait wrote.

The main point of the article is how panicked the Republican Party is about Democracy:

All of these things are an attempt to handle political adversity by expanding the ability of the conservative minority to wield political power. Not all of them will succeed perfectly, or even at all. But it’s indicative of the party’s current state—not a coordinated strategy by any means, but a kind of adaptive response to the growing sense of being outnumbered at the polls.

This is to be expected, of course. For the last 30 years, the Republican Party has maintained policies that are unpopular. But they were nonetheless successful with two strategies. They fully embraced social conservationism and racist subtexts. The first part of this is easy enough to understand and it still represents a strong part of their coalition. But to this day, even most “moderate” Republicans refuse to acknowledge their racist appeal. But it is there and it is anything but subtle.

In 1980, just after becoming the Republican candidate for president, Ronald Reagan went to Neshoba County, Mississippi. That is where the three civil rights organizers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner where murdered by the KKK in 1964. In his first speech since the convention, Reagan said:

I believe in states’ rights…. I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment.

That’s about as clear as you can be apart from saying, “I’ll get the federal government out of your hair so you can go back to keeping your niggers in line.” Of course, it doesn’t take much digging to find Republicans more or less that blunt.

Now the demographics are moving such that there aren’t as many whites and those who remain are less inclined to find such dog whistles appealing. So the most obvious solution to the failing GOP constituency is to game the system so that they can stay in power without being popular. It is their only choice if the party is to remain unchanged. But even if they succeed at this, it will only work for a while. The party will eventually change. But that doesn’t make me particularly happy. Eventually we will all be dead.


There is a tendency for liberals to assume that moves like this on the part of the Republicans are purely cynical. It isn’t. Take for example Pennsylvania House Republican leader Mike Turzai’s comment, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done.” Most liberals present this as an example of Republicans cynically trying to game the system. This is not how Turzai sees it. To him, the only reason that Obama won the first time around was all the voter fraud that ACORN did. His comment only means that of course Mitt Romney would win in a fair contest and now that Voter ID was “done” it would be a fair contest.

Republicans believe their own bullshit. In Pennsylvania, where they may indeed change how electoral votes are distributed, I doubt they are thinking, “This is a way to screw the Democrats!” Instead, they are thinking, “This is a way to stop all the voter fraud that the Democrats are doing!” I am absolutely serious about this. Republicans see themselves as the victims in all of this and what they are doing is only meant to make things fair against those evil Democrats.

I bring this up because I think it is dangerous to assume that Republicans know what they are doing. They only listen to other Republicans. They are certain that the United States is a center-right (or even extreme-right) nation. According to their thinking, if only the votes of “real” Americans were counted, the Democratic Party would collapse. But as liberals, we can’t make the same mistake; we have to know what we are really fighting. Accusing Republicans of cynically manipulating the voting system will only make them retrench. We must convince them that their ideas really are toxic. That’s hard to do, of course. But we will never succeed in convincing them that they are cynical. Because they aren’t.

(Okay: many of the professionals are cynical. But the base isn’t. They are true believers. They drank the Flavor Aid.)

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “From Racist Rhetoric to Electoral Games

  1. Rick Perlstein at "The Nation" has a piece on why Dems shouldn’t assume demographic dominance just yet:

    It’s the first part of his argument, where he cites previous examples of supposed Dem shifts that were short-lived.

    I don’t know if he’ll have anything interesting to say in later installments, or not. But I think there are good reasons for Dems not to get too cocky. Much of the GOP rise since 1980 was based on declining union membership and surging influxes of business money. Those trends are not changing soon. Obama drew large turnouts among non-white voters; Biden/Clinton presumably won’t do as well.

  2. @JMF – I have been arguing this for a long time. The Republicans have been good at getting people to vote for them who you would think wouldn’t. Remember: in 1970, the Republicans were more clearly the pro-choice party. They aren’t stupid; they know how to win elections.

    Having said that, I don’t see the demographic shift helping Democrats that long. I’m thinking perhaps 6-8 years. But I do think there is some hope that the Republicans will see that they have to come up with something other than the "angry white guy" rhetoric.

    You know what the Republicans remind me of? The end of Terminiator 2, where the new model is dropped in a vat of liquid iron. It keeps changing states looking for something that will work. Nothing does. With the Republicans, something eventually will work. And knowing them, it will be as bad or worse than their current form.

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