Brian Beutler wrote a really good article over at New Republic yesterday, Republicans Are Playing Dirty Tricks to Worsen Democrats’ Midterm-Voter Problem. He contrasted the efforts of Mark Begich to get voters out to the polls in Alaska with the efforts of the conservative Americans for Prosperity to restrict voting by sending out incorrect information to people “and at least one cat.”
There is an obvious difference here. What the Democrats are doing is good old fashioned retail politics. What the Republicans are doing is simply illegal. Of course, they always claim that such stunts are nothing but mistakes. And it isn’t completely ridiculous to believe that. After all, for something in excess of thirty years, the Republicans have show themselves to be incompetent regarding pretty much anything other than winning elections. Still, the “win any way you can” philosophy is as fundamental to the conservative movement as anything — even going back to the Nixon administration and what they called “rat fucking.”
But let’s just think about the Bush the Younger years. Karl Rove’s great political insight was that the focus of politics should be getting out your voters. Don’t worry about the middle — the undecided voters. Of course, that strategy only works so long as your ideology has a reasonable level of popularity. In the last decade, the Republican Party has lost much of its social conservative appeal. It is more clear than ever that what the party believes in is the rich and their well being. Remember how lots of old people voted for Bush in 2004 because he was going to stick it to the fags, but once he got elected, Bush decided to use his political capital to privatize Social Security? That doesn’t endear a political party to a group of voters.
Not to worry! Now the Republicans have Karl Rove Double Plus Good: don’t worry about your own voters, just stop Democrats from voting. There are many ways that they are going about this. Sadly, most of them are legal. Or at least legal enough such that they are ending up in the courts, where conservative judges are often finding that there is no level of voting restriction that is illegal. This is because, regardless of where you find them in the government, conservatives do not believe in democracy.
That’s what was behind Karl Rove’s idea that the government should be able to do whatever it wanted with 50% of the vote plus one vote. I wrote about this is some detail, The “50 Percent of the Votes, Plus One” Doctrine. This is a typical tactic of a radical group, as I discussed earlier today. When Hugo Chávez tried to get the Venezuelan constitution changed, it lost by a very small amount. When people asked him if he was going to request a recount, he said no. He said he only wanted to change the constitution if the people clearly wanted it. Chávez had his problems, but he was a bigger believer in democracy than the leaders of the Republican Party.
So the current state of politics is not surprising. It is clear that what the Republicans are doing in terms of voting is what they are doing in every area of politics. They are trying to maintain competitiveness in the short term without making any changes to the Party. And it may work this time around. But note that it isn’t working well. Just looking at the Senate: the Republicans are looking at a best case scenario where they will do as well as we would expect given the fundamentals. The fact that the Democrats might hang onto the Senate is just laughable.
It will be interesting to see what happens to the Republicans in 2016 and beyond. Their short-term fixes have run their course. If they don’t make some real changes, they will turn into a regional party. What it’s going to take for them to avoid that is a little courage. I’m not at all sure they have it in them. I think that’s what’s behind all the chest pounding. They have to pretend to be tough because they are cowards. This year, that may be enough. But I wouldn’t want to be in the Republicans’ position. And regardless, I’d rather be in the party I’m in — the one that is betting on democracy, not against it.