“Tell you what Mr. American Airlines,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick bellowed several weeks ago after American Airlines and a hundred or so other major corporations pushed back against voter suppression legislation being pursued by Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country. “I take it personally. You’re questioning my integrity and the integrity of the governor and the integrity of the 18 Republicans who voted for this. When you suggest that we’re trying to suppress the vote, you’re in essence between the lines calling us racist and that will not stand! That will not stand!”
The statement was very old-school GOP – a Republican leader worrying out loud about his integrity. The Republican Party is firmly in the hands of their radical fringes. QAnon and its demonization of Democrats as pedophile communists, the celebration of the January 6th insurrection, and amped up culture wars have become the backdrop for Republican fundraising.
Stunningly, it seems that this outrage is working as hundreds of millions of dollars are being sucked out of the party’s working-class base and into the pockets of Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene. And, of course, Donald Trump is set to ramp his rallies back up and begin a revenge tour against all those who have wronged him.
Of course, no one says “we want to steal elections” out loud. Not these days, anyway. Back in the day, in Dick Daley’s Chicago, or New York, or Boston, or Louisiana, a half a century or more ago, party bosses huddled in smoke-filled rooms to figure out plans for election day. But that was a different world. There’s a reason Trump’s own election fraud commission was quietly disbanded in 2018 without issuing so much as a final report. Hatching conspiracies to rig elections – much less executing them – is near to impossible in a world where everyone, armed with a smartphone, is a pseudo investigative reporter.
Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, along with the GOP-controlled state legislature are doing what partisans have tried to do for decades: bend the rules for their political advantage. It was a sign of our racially charged environment that he ceded the moral high ground in suggesting that their efforts at run-of-the-mill voting suppression make them a bunch of racists. After all, Texas Republicans have no problem with Black and brown people voting if they vote Republican. Patrick and his compatriots are not really trying to address pervasive voter fraud as their rhetoric suggests, just pervasive Democrat voting.
That problem – pervasive voting and adverse demographic trends – has been a front-burner issue for the GOP dating back a half-century or more. In 1980, at the dawn of the Reagan revolution, Heritage Foundation co-founder and right-wing icon Paul Weyrich argued that voter suppression was and would continue to be a key to the success of the conservative movement.
Forty years later, and little has changed. Donald Trump raised eyebrows a bit over a year ago when he launched his attack on mail-in voting. Trump didn’t want to make it easier for people to vote, he wanted to make it easier for him to win. And, like Weyrich, he argued that the easier it was for people to vote, the harder it would be for Republicans to win national elections.
The issue of voter suppression as a core Republican political tactic reached the Supreme Court earlier this year, in a case that challenged voter suppression statutes that were enacted into law by the Arizona legislature five years ago. During oral arguments in March, Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Michael Carvin, the attorney for the Arizona Republican Party, what the GOP’s interest was in the Court’s upholding the voting restrictions. Carvin responded by saying the quiet part out loud:
“Politics is a zero-sum game. Every extra vote they [Democrats] get… hurts us. It’s the difference between winning an election 50-49 and losing an election 51 to 50.”
Democracy, it turns out, is not imperative – winning is.
Republicans argue that there is nothing anti-American about voter suppression. “Democracy isn’t the objective,” Utah Senator Mike Lee – a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito – famously tweeted last October. “Liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” Lee’s words became a rallying cry for many on the right and were mirrored in a number of essays in April in the National Review that suggested that tightening restrictions on voting was a legitimate defense against leftist Democrat mob rule.
The essays walked a fine line, trying to rationalize the kind of voting restrictions long embraced by Republican elites, even as the authors sought to pander to the anti-elite, populist fervor animating the Trump base. In his piece “Why not fewer voters?” Kevin Wilkinson begged the question of who would get to decide who would not be allowed to vote, while Andrew McCarthy argued that “it would be far better if the franchise were not exercised by ignorant, civics-illiterate people, hypnotized by the flimflam that a great nation needs to be fundamentally transformed rather than competently governed.”
Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy have struggled to craft a clear stance on the voter suppression movement sweeping the country. As a partisan matter, they support anything that improves their electoral prospects. At the same time, they understand that those efforts are feeding off of Donald Trump’s ‘Big Lie’, and will ultimately undermine the GOP’s credibility.
As recently as a few weeks ago, McCarthy and McConnell tried once again to deflect the notion that the party’s submission to Donald Trump is complete. “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with.” McCarthy told reporters on May 11th. To which McConnell added the next day, “I don’t think anyone on our side has been arguing that [voter fraud] has been pervasive all over the country.”
No one, perhaps, except the 70% of Republicans who agreed in a recent CNN poll that “Joe Biden did not legitimately win enough votes to win the presidency.” An even greater 87% believe “that the rules around voting are not strict enough to prevent illegal votes from being cast.” They are effectively saying that the truth is whatever Donald Trump says it is, despite the testimony to the contrary by Republican officials ranging from Bill Barr and other Trump administration officials to state election officials across the country.
This week, Donald Trump seemed to tire of the arguments over the drawn-out process of changing election laws, and he upped the ante. At a widely-publicized QAnon conference, Mike Flynn and Sydney Powell
fed speculation that some sort of coup or election “audits” in Arizona and other states might yet restore Donald Trump to the White House. When that happened, Powell explained authoritatively, Trump would not get back the days he has missed since January 20th, but rather that a new inauguration date would be set. Joe Biden would be moved out of the White House and Trump would move back in.
Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August (no that isn’t how it works but simply sharing the information). https://t.co/kaXSXKnpF0
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 1, 2021
The Trump Restoration narrative was a big hit, and according to reporting from Maggie Haberman, Trump is apparently all in for the proposed August return. And why shouldn’t he be? Nearly a third of Americans now say Joe Biden did not legitimately win the election.
Now that the new, “Bigger Lie” of the Trump Restoration is out there, will a majority of Republicans believe that lie as well? No doubt the QAnon followers will, who comprise more than a quarter of the GOP. Perhaps also a fair share of Trump’s evangelical base, despite the pleading of some of his evangelical allies that this is a bridge too far. But is this the point at which a large share of Republicans finally say enough is enough? We will see.
While Dan Patrick is worried about whether people think he’s a racist, and Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy sit in growing irrelevance in the nation’s capital, it is Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene who have their finger on the pulse of the new GOP. They could care less about voter suppression in Texas or anything else that has a whiff of the real world about it. The Trump Restoration is here and no doubt they want to run with it. Does anyone believe it will happen? Of course not, but since when does that matter anymore.