The Republican Party is currently hoping to win nationwide using two simple elements: explicit and overt racism, and voter suppression.
No “ideas”; no pitch for tax cuts; no discussion of their “replacement” for the Affordable Care Act; no push for better schools, hospitals, airports, roads or bridges; no promise for more and better jobs—none of these staples of the 2016 presidential campaign can be found in pretty much any Republican advertising today.
Instead, the public Republican message is all about race or the subset of race, religion (“Muslim” stands in for “brown Arab” in GOP-speak) and “immigration” (aka brown people from south of our border). Republicans across the country are even recruiting white supremacist and neo-Nazi gangs to threaten or assault Democrats and their supporters, while President Donald Trump praises the criminal assault of reporters in the wake of jurnalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
Meanwhile, Republican secretaries of state across the nation are vigorously purging voters from the rolls (over 14 million, more than 10 percent of America’s active voters, in the past two years, according to investigative reporter Greg Palast).
In North Carolina, for example, 158 polling places were permanently closed in the 40 counties with the most African American voters just before the 2016 election, leading to a 16 percent decline in African American early voting in that state. An MIT study found that, nationwide, Hispanic voters wait 150 percent longer in line than white voters, and Black voters can expect to wait 200 percent longer in line to vote.
In Indiana, then-Governor Pence’s new rigorous voter ID law caused an 11.5 percent drop in African American voting. Students are suing for their right to vote, and retired people who no longer drive but care passionately about their Social Security and Medicare are being turned away at the polls by the tens of thousands.
How did it come to this?
The problem for the GOP has deep roots. In the 1870s, when the Party abandoned its Lincolnesque position in favor of granting full citizenship rights to freed slaves, it rapidly slid into the role of being the party of the barons of rail, oil, coal, steel, and construction.
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, largely threw its efforts—culminating in the New Deal in 1933 and the Great Society in 1967—in with working people, legislatively protecting unionization efforts, passing Social Security and Medicare, putting the minimum wage and unemployment insurance into law, and creating federal and state agencies to protect workers’ safety, children, and the environment.
This has led to a major problem for the GOP, since the very wealthy and CEOs only constitute a small part of the American voting public. In order to pass tax cuts and cut protective regulations for their rich owners, they needed political power, and—particularly since the disastrous “roaring 20s” leading straight to the Republican Great Depression (yes, they called it that until after WWII)—Republicans needed voters to put them into office.
And this was generally pretty tough for the GOP. In 1974, for example, the GOP only had outright control of seven states. The message of, “elect us and we’ll help the rich people out” just didn’t generally resonate with American voters. It’s the reason why, outside of the fluke elections of 1946 and 1952, Democrats outright controlled the House of Representatives for three generations, from 1933 to 1996, and controlled the Senate for most of that time.
Desperate to win the presidency in 1968, Richard Nixon even went so far as to commit treason by torpedoing a peace deal that LBJ had worked out with the Vietnamese. According to the then-president of Iran, Reagan did the same thing by cutting a deal with Iran to hold the U.S. embassy hostages until after the election, destroying Jimmy Carter’s chances of re-election.
In 2000, though, the GOP changed tactics. After President Ronald Reagan almost got busted for Iran/Contra (he testified that he “forgot” about details of the program over 80 times; he was saved by his growing Alzheimer’s from an indictment), they realized that getting busted for treason wasn’t worth the risk. They needed a “Plan B.”
And it was deliciously simple. If the majority of voters don’t like what you’re selling, then just don’t let them vote.