Despite the "Growth and Opportunity Project" report, a 73-page "autopsy," released by the Republican National Committee shortly after the disastrous 2012 elections, it's become increasingly clear in recent months that the party has abandoned even the report's most anodyne proposals. Instead of outreach to women, immigrants and poor people (among other proposals), here's what the Republican Party has opted to attempt instead.
It all starts, of course, with a strategy of voter disenfranchisement, where, despite representing a growing share of the populace, the number of minority voters would steadily shrink. In the hypothetical honest version of the GOP road map, the Republican Party admits it hopes to engineer an increasingly toxic political reality that inspires only certain Americans -- mostly, old white ones -- to register their votes. At the same time, major players in the modern GOP such as Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Rand Paul have bent over backward recently to effect a position of "concern" for the problems of the poor and downtrodden. Unfortunately, their actions speak louder than their words, as their party vigorously undertakes initiatives to diminish these same groups' electoral power.
The GOP of 2014 maintains an embarrassing melange of nobly stated goals and cynically undertaken actions.
Perhaps there's a certain method to this madness: Facing a "demographic death spiral," the Republican Party of today would be foolish to risk losing the aging, conservative, rural, white, male voters who make up the lion's share of their base. As just one example, while newfound support for immigration reform among Republicans would be unlikely to drive rural and suburban geriatrics to vote Democrat, it could plausibly keep them from heading to the polls entirely in 2014. And if, in the aftermath of reform, the Hispanic community credits the Democrats with delivering immigration anyway -- as they likely would -- what political value does this position hold for most Republicans?
It should come as no surprise, then, that rather than adapting their policy positions to a changing nation, Republicans have simply adopted cynical tactics that work to minimize the electoral power of these demographic groups at every turn. If the GOP can't convince minorities and young people to vote against their own interests, perhaps they can prevent the poor, the young, and minorities from voting in the first place. After all, as conservative columnists have noted with some glee, an election using old antebellum rules, where only white men could vote, would have led to a landslide for Mitt Romney! (And white Christians are the only "real Americans," so this exit-polling proves that Romney deserved to win or something.)
Let's consider the GOP's statements and its actions, and examine whether the former has any influence on the latter.
Compared with the current state of the Republican reform movement (which is basically nonexistent), there is much to be admired in the "Growth and Opportunity Project" report. The much-discussed "autopsy" offered some surprisingly clear-eyed assessments of the challenges facing the Republican Party going forward: For instance, the report notes that "[y]oung voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country."
Throughout the report, the RNC suggests policy goals that identify long-term problems, while the fact that none have been implemented reveals the report's largest flaw. The report completely ignores the uncomfortable short-term political realities that the Republican Party must confront. Take immigration reform as just the most obvious example: Much of the supposed-demographic advantage that Democrats have held in recent elections is a function of the party's enormous advantage among non-white voters. In this view, demographic groups like young people are disproportionately liberal for no greater reason than that they're so ethnically diverse. (And comparing white millennials' voting preferences to those of their older peers seems to largely bear this out.) The cynic might suggest that any immigration reform would only hasten the demographic decline of the modern GOP -- and, lo and behold, substantive efforts from Republicans to tackle this issue have yet to materialize, with Marco Rubio (the modern party's most willing champion of reform) publicly backing off before causing himself any permanent damage within the GOP's old, primarily white base.
Other reforms that might help the GOP long-term have faced similar fates, while undemocratic tactics of dubious legality are enthusiastically undertaken.
Tea Party radicals have been bragging about modeling their strategy after avowed radical Saul Alinsky for years, but the Republican Party has also clearly learned a thing or two from Vladmir Lenin, who cheered the abuses of the Czarists as "the worse the better." Basically, the more the Czarists oppressed the populace, the more the people would come to support the revolutionaries. Lenin was willing to see the pain of suffering of the people he ostensibly wanted to help if it meant achieving his larger goal of communist revolution. Similarly, in their crusade to paint Obama and the federal government as incompetent, the GOP has deliberately obstructed any measures he supports, no matter how small -- or vital -- they might be. And the Republican leadership has been employing this nearly treasonous political strategy since election night in 2008, when Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan had their infamous dinner with other influential Republicans to craft a strategy centered on blocking any and all positions the president might support -- this, at the height of the Great Recession, when millions of Americans desperately needed leaders concerned more with their duty to serve than their craven political machinations. Unfortunately, this strategy has proven successful: While Republicans are more hated than Democrats, both parties are seeing historically low polling figures, with an entire generation of young Americans -- who might have otherwise worked vigilantly against Republicans --completely disillusioned and disgusted with national politics.
The GOP's hypocrisy extends to the other parts of their stated platform, too.
America loves to hate criminals (unless they're on TV or in movies; we can't get enough of so-called antiheroes), and Republicans have been the party Americans trust on issues of law and order for at least 30 years, since the political assassination of Michael Dukakis by the visage of Willie Horton. According to their 2012 platform, "Liberals do not understand this simple axiom: criminals behind bars cannot harm the general public. To that end, we support mandatory prison sentencing for gang crimes, violent or sexual offenses against children, repeat drug dealers, rape, robbery and murder."
What their platform doesn't note is the relationship between high incarceration rates and the GOP's long-term political success. It's no surprise that we don't see large numbers of Republican lawmakers supporting the intermittent lip service Rand Paul pays to reforming America's deeply unjust drug laws: Our enormously high incarceration rate -- the highest in the developed world -- allows for the legal disenfranchisement of millions of young people who also just "happen" to be primarily young minorities. Adding insult to injury, most prisons are located in rural areas -- come census time, prisoners are counted as part of the local population for the purposes of establishing congressional districts, despite their lacking the right to vote while behind bars. Our prison culture is a shameful, odious continuation of the entrenched, systemic racism that has haunted this country since her inception -- supporting it for any reason is shameful, but supporting a corporation's high profits is a particularly disgusting reason to keep this immoral system humming uninterrupted. Yet that's exactly what happens when private prison companies funnel eye-popping sums to conservative election campaigns, increasing these companies' influence on our drug laws and creating dangerous incentives for rich Washingtonians to maintain a racist criminal justice system that needlessly incarcerates millions of low-level drug offenders every year.
While using our criminal justice system as a means of disenfranchising black and Hispanic voters is the most shameful aspect of the GOP's real election strategy, it's far from unique. When employed by the Republican Party, voter disenfranchisement takes on many forms: sowing apathy among struggling and disaffected young people; restricting the times and days of voting (and eliminating early voting and day-of-registration initiatives); and adding voter IDs and other hoops voters must jump through, a "tyranny of the majority" where citizens with the least money, time and access are most likely to lose their franchise. Any intellectually honest conservative tradition would find such tactics abhorrent, and laudably, some Republicans have come out publicly against this strategy, such as Wisconsin Republican legislator Dane Schultz:
It’s just, I think, sad when a political party — my political party — has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics. [...] it ought to be abundantly clear to everybody in this state that there is no massive voter fraud. The only thing that we do have in this state is we have long lines of people who want to vote. And it seems to me that we should be doing everything we can to make it easier, to help these people get their votes counted. And that we should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future, rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote.
Indeed, because Americans are so mindful of the rule of law, it can be really hard to find any clear examples of voter fraud -- just ask "conservative prankster" James O'Keefe. This is a shame for the GOP, because the general public is considerably more economically liberal than the electorate, and therefore any excuse to make it harder for poor, young minorities to vote will have the benefit of making it significantly easier for Republicans to win elections without having to compromise their batshit-insane beliefs.
When voter suppression isn't an option, nakedly political gerrymandering is always an effective substitute. When your base of voters is shrinking and you find the idea of appealing to a broader base of the population abhorrent (you might have to rub shoulders with the Poors, and have you smelled them lately?), it only makes sense to pack them into as few congressional districts as possible. Even if you can't shrink the actual population (where's a bloody foreign war with a national draft when you need one, amirite?), you can certainly shrink their representative size. Just look at how gerrymandering helped disenfranchise Democrats in 2012:
(Credit: Jaeah Lee/Mother Jones)
A thorough examination of the Republican Party's recent electoral tactics reveals a strategy predicated on sowing voter disenfranchisement and disillusionment. Cursory public statements to the contrary notwithstanding, the GOP has no strategy or plan for the future that involves making changes to their stale platform. They'd much rather focus their efforts on shrinking and diminishing the inexorable demographic changes that are transforming this country. Even more damning to their long-term goals, they have become completely incapable of undertaking new ideas or supporting innovative policy solutions. As a number of liberal columnists have noted, Marco Rubio's policy platform is exactly the same as Republicans in office 30 years ago. Indeed, the Growth and Opportunity Project report seems to understand the potential danger that this staleness represents:
"At our core, Republicans have comfortably remained the Party of Reagan without figuring out what comes next. Ronald Reagan is a Republican hero and role model who was first elected 33 years ago — meaning no one under the age of 51 today was old enough to vote for Reagan when he first ran for President. Our Party knows how to appeal to older voters, but we have lost our way with younger ones. We sound increasingly out of touch."
When people are forced to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet, they hardly have the time to read about politics deeply -- or the energy to care. It's somewhat amazing that so many still manage to read the morning paper, watch cable news or listen to NPR or conservative talk radio on the way to work. Still, political ignorance of all shapes and sizes can be wielded as a cudgel, and Republicans have made the exploitation of ignorance into something of an art form. They have done this primarily by sowing dysfunction: Voters who don't follow the news closely are deeply aware of the broken state of our national politics, and while polls consistently show that Americans blame Republicans more than Democrats for this state of affairs, that doesn't mean Republicans haven't still been successful. Some of the most influential members of the GOP bluntly acknowledge their goals of making government less effective: John Boehner, third in line to the presidency, candidly admitted on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he doesn't see his role as a lawmaker as, you know, making laws. According to Boehner, Congress "should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal."
Republicans want to convince Americans that government is the problem, that only when government gets out of the way and allows the free market to operate without restriction will our economy improve. Incidentally, if you're lucky enough to be a part of the richest 0.1 percent -- arguably, the GOP's core constituency -- this viewpoint has been entirely accurate in recent years. And crucially, this disconnect -- between the right's real constituency and its base, between its calculated support of plutocracy and its claims toward championing "freedom" and "small businesses" -- goes a long way to explaining the cavernous gap between the GOP's reasonable statements and its reprehensible deeds.