It’s hard to imagine a better illustration of just how little Republicans care about democracy than seeing Donald Trump fire the Director of National Intelligence simply because one of his aides briefed the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s ongoing attempts to interfere in the 2020 election. For Trump, it was far more important to hide the fact that Russia would be helping him than to actually defend our democracy, stand up to Putin, demand the interference stop, and take appropriate action to ensure that. In contrast to Trump, Bernie Sanders forcefully rebuked Putin for Russian interference after an interestingly timed intelligence leak (that looks like it came from the White House) showed that the Russians might also be abetting his campaign for the Democratic nomination. Remarkably, the avowed “socialist”, who has recently been described as having “supported communist revolutionaries all over the Western hemisphere in the 1980s” and holding positions that “are antithetical to the values of the country”, is apparently a greater defender of American democracy than the President, a supposed capitalist and legally adjudicated felon.
Of course, the only reason the President can continue to refuse to defend our democracy from foreign intervention is because the Republican party, from top to bottom, has basically abandoned democracy in order to remain in power, aiding and abetting an autocrat in order to save themselves. For Republicans, not just Trump, there can be no legitimacy to any opposition power. As I have previously illustrated, that Republican denial of any legitimate Democratic and democratic power extends from the federal government, through state government, all the way down to the county level.
The Republican Senators’ vote to acquit Trump in a sham trial that refused to even hear direct witness testimony merely affirmed their preference for autocracy over democracy. As Adam Serwer writes, “The Senate’s vote to acquit Trump of the impeachment charges he faced, despite the incontrovertible proof that he sought to use his official powers to force a foreign country to falsely implicate a political rival, was not simply a vote to keep him in office until the electorate can render its verdict. Republican senators affirmatively voted to allow the president to use his official powers to suppress the opposition party, to purge government employees who proved more loyal to the Constitution than to Trump, and to potentially prosecute or otherwise criminally implicate his political enemies without lawful cause, while shielding Trump allies from legal sanction. The acquittal vote ratified the authoritarian instincts of the president and the ideological convictions of his attorney general”.
Senate Republicans have shown no interest in defending the integrity of our election systems and processes. GOP Senators recently again blocked a vote on three election security measures that had passed the House, condemning them to Mitch McConnell’s “legislative graveyard”. Those bills would have required campaigns to report foreign offers of election interference to the FEC and FBI as well as ensuring that voting machines are not connected to the internet. Since foreign interference in US elections is a crime, it seems that reporting such criminal activity should hardly be a burden to campaigns but rather an act of patriotism. But that may not be the case when a campaign believes it can’t win without that foreign help.
Republicans aren’t just relying on foreign interference in our elections. They are also willing to actively sabotage the campaigns of Democrats seeking their party’s nomination. According to White House sources, Trump specifically timed his trip to New Hampshire in the hopes that the security protocols in place would restrict the Democrats campaigning there. According to the AP, “Advisers hoped that Secret Service moves in downtown Manchester to secure the area for the president’s arrival would also make it harder for Democratic candidates and their supporters to transverse the state’s largest city in the hours before the primary’s first votes are cast”.
In the same way, in Iowa, a coordinated effort by Republicans was made to jam the phone lines that precinct chairs used to report their local results to the state party, further delaying the results of the already fouled-up caucus. NBC reported that the phone numbers were posted on the 4chan site with the instructions to “clog the lines”. A similar effort in New Hampshire in the 2002 election led to the conviction of a Bush campaign operative who was also the Republican party’s New England regional director.
This kind of direct interference is, of course, nothing compared to the GOP’s massive efforts at voter suppression across the country. In November, 2019, incumbent Republican governor Matt Bevin lost re-election by less than 5,000 votes. Immediately, Bevin and the Kentucky Republicans hatched a plan for Bevin to contest the election and have the decision thrown to the Kentucky legislature which was still controlled by the GOP. That plan fell through as it became apparent Bevin had no valid grounds to contest the results. Blocked in that effort, Kentucky Republicans are trying to ensure it never happens again. Following in the path of multiple red states where Democrats have made inroads, the Kentucky Senate just passed a bill that would require a government-issued photo ID in order to vote and that bill will be taken up and presumably passed by the Kentucky House shortly. The Kentucky Secretary of State was quite open about the rationale for implementing this piece of voter suppression this year, stating that the election for “a very competitive Senate seat”, meaning Mitch McConnell’s, will be contested this fall.
Republicans are so focused on voter suppression that it is often easy to interpret even some seemingly benign actions as having a nefarious purpose. In Florida, the legislature recently added a provision that would, according to Marc Elias, “ease qualifications for being a poll watcher. Currently poll watchers must be a voter in the county. The new provision will require only that they be a voter in the state”. This could be interpreted as an attempt to expand the ability to challenge the votes of certain people or groups. Per CNN, “Poll watchers in Florida are allowed to challenge the identity or right of a person to vote in the county in question so long as they explain their reasons for doing so under oath, and file the challenge with the clerk of the local election board”.
Michigan is shaping up to be one of the premier battleground states of the 2020 election, with the potential that the state will provide the deciding votes in the Electoral College. Absentee voting in the state is expected to surge with a new rule that allows such voting without an excuse. Even before this change, absentee ballots accounted for around one quarter of all votes in the 2018 gubernatorial contest. Because of this expected surge, a Republican State Senator and former Secretary of State proposed a bill that would allow early counting of these absentee ballots without releasing any results to the public. The Republican Senate Majority Leader quickly squashed that idea stating, “I don’t necessarily think we should be trying to solve a problem before it actually occurs… If I had to choose between early voting, early counting versus late reporting, I’ll take late reporting all day long…I think it’s a dangerous precedent”. Assuming the vote in Michigan was as close as it was in 2016, this would of course mean that the actual results from Michigan may not be available for days after the actual polling day. If Trump should lose the state, such a delay would only provide more fodder for Trump to portray the election as fixed and challenge the results.
Back in Kentucky, the GOP-controlled legislature is taking a cue from other red states that recently elected Democratic governors by looking to strip the new governor of certain powers. The Kentucky Senate recently passed a bill that would strip the governor’s ability to appoint his own Transportation Secretary. Instead, the governor would have to choose the Secretary from three candidates proposed by a newly created board that would rely on input from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties. Road projects have always been an important tool for the state’s governors to use in the political horse trading that is necessary to build support for those governors’ agenda. In fact, former governor Bevin used those projects extensively to help his re-election bid. But, with Republicans, what is good for the goose is not allowed for the gander. As the Democratic minority leader noted, all the bill does is take the power over road projects away from the governor and hand it to the reliably Republican groups that would actually have financial interests in how the transportation budget would be spent.
It’s not just Democratic power that Republicans are intent to delegitimize. They also go after courts that they decide have not been sufficiently loyal to the GOP cause, although with far less success. Trump’s attacks on Ginsburg and Sotomayor in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling on providing his taxes is the most obvious case in point. But Republicans have been threatening or stacking the courts at the state level for many years now. In Arizona, the Republican governor successfully packed the Supreme Court with two new reliably conservative justices by appointing seven of the ten member “independent” commission that nominates those justices. Not a single Democrat sits on that commission. In Florida, Rick Scott actually tried to appoint three new Supreme Court justices after his term had ended in the fear that Andrew Gillum might win the gubernatorial race and be able to fill those slots instead. In Texas in 2018, after 19 new Democratic black justices were elected in the Houston area, governor Gregg Abbott tried to amend the state constitution to allow the governor to appoint judges in counties with over 500,000 residents, while leaving local judicial elections in place for less dense rural counties. The change was obviously targeted at the growing Democratic power in Texas’ urban centers. The effort failed when Democrats had enough votes to block the two-thirds required for a change to the state constitution.
Now, in Iowa, an even more brazen attempt to neuter the judiciary has been proposed by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Republican dominated legislature. According to the Gazette, “Under the bill, district courts and the Court of Appeals would no longer have authority to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by lawmakers. Only the Iowa Supreme Court would have that authority. And it would take a five-justice supermajority on the seven-member court to overturn a statute. That supermajority’s ruling would have no effect for one year. In the meantime, the Legislature can ‘compel attendance of specified justices to a public hearing to discuss and debate the justification for the decision’ with legislators. During and after that hearing, lawmakers would decide whether grounds for impeaching those justices exist, maybe ‘for acting without authority.’ But the targeted justices would be allowed to rethink and change their ruling, presumably to save their skins. Lawmakers also could invalidate a high court ruling with two-thirds majority votes in both chambers”. Now, truth be told, this bill is not going anywhere currently in the Iowa legislature. But the fact that such a broad usurpation of power and intimidation of the judicial branch was offered by a senior Republican leader in the state is both appalling and, frankly, frightening.
Finally, earlier this week, the Republican National Committee began sending out what were basically fake census forms that not only asked recipients to pay a “processing fee” which would be to the RNC but also included a way to donate to the Trump campaign. The mailer looks remarkably like the official census form that is due to be released in a few weeks time and asks similar questions. The Republicans used this same scam back in 2010 and, in response, Congress passed a law that specifically banned mailers that imitated the actual census forms. It remains to be seen whether this mailer breaches that law. As Democrat Nita Lowey stated, “Republicans seem to have a ceaseless imagination when it comes to both fundraising and undermining the accuracy of the census. Soliciting campaign donations under the guise of a census document is fraudulent, predatory and the latest way Republicans have threatened an accurate census count”.
In his piece everyone should read, Serwer also writes, “the Republican Party is slowly transforming into a regime party, one whose primary duty is to maintain its control of the government at all costs…keeping Trump in office is not the ultimate goal, despite party members’ obsequious public performances toward Trump. Rather, the purpose is to preserve the authoritarian structure Trump and Barr are building, so that it can be inherited by the next Republican president. To be more specific, the Trump administration is not fighting a ‘deep state’; it is seeking to build one that will outlast him”. Make no mistake, the 2020 elections at every level, federal, state, and local, will not just be a contest between Democrats and Republicans. It will be a contest between those who believe in and support actual democracy and the anti-democratic forces of autocracy. At the presidential level, with the possible exceptions of Mike Bloomberg and Tulsi Gabbard, that will be true no matter who the Democrats nominate, even a self-proclaimed socialist. And no matter what the result of the upcoming election may be, even if Trump loses, the forces of autocracy will still be very much alive and still presumably dominant within the Republican party.
Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on February 26, 2020.