May 7, 2021
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo articulated today what many have been reluctant to say: What is at stake in the Big Lie and all the Republican efforts to keep it in play—the shenanigans in the secret Maricopa County, Arizona, recount; the censuring of Republicans who voted to impeach the former president; the expected removal of Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney from a leadership role in the party; and so on—is not the past election of 2020, but the upcoming election of 2024.
The Republican Party has demonstrated that it intends to control the government in the future, no matter what most Americans want. Iowa, Georgia, Montana, and Florida have already passed voter suppression laws, while other states are considering them. (Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s bill yesterday live on the Fox News Channel.)
As Marshall points out, though, making sure that states return only Republicans to Congress is also about controlling the White House. Republican lawmakers are purging from state election machinery members of their own party who refused to change the outcome of the 2020 election and give a victory to Trump. The former president has fed speculation that he still hopes to overturn the 2020 election, but Marshall looks forward: Is it really possible to think that in 2024, members of the new Trump party will protect the sanctity of any election that gives a victory to a Democratic candidate? If Republicans capture the House in 2022, will they agree to certify electoral votes for a Democrat? In 2020, even before the current remaking of the party in Trump’s image, 139 House Republicans contested them.
Trump is systematically going after leading members of the Republican Party, determined to remake it into his own organization. Several former senior White House officials told Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post that “[t]he defeated ex-president is propelled primarily by a thirst for retribution, an insatiable quest for the spotlight and a desire to establish and maintain total dominance and control over the Republican base.” Republican strategist Brendan Buck noted that Trump seems to relish fighting, rather than victory to achieve an end. “Usually,” Buck said, “a fight is the means to an end, but in this case fighting is the end.”
The Republicans are consolidating their control over the machinery of government in a way that indicates they intend to control the country regardless of what Americans actually want, putting Trump and his organization back in charge. Democrats have proposed the For the People Act (H.R. 1 and S. 1), which would start to restore a level playing field between the parties. The For the People Act would sideline the new voter suppression bills and make it easier to vote. It would end partisan gerrymandering and stop the flow of big money into elections permitted after the 2010 Citizens United decision.
But Republicans are determined to stop this measure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is especially engaged in its obstruction. He has called it a “partisan takeover” that would “give Washington Democrats unprecedented control over 50 states’ election laws.” He recognizes that restoring a level electoral playing field would hamstring the Republicans’ ability to win elections. Defeating the act is McConnell’s top priority.
The story of how Republican leaders embraced voter suppression and gerrymandering starts back in the 1980s, though the mechanics of overturning a presidential election are new to 2020. Still, their undermining of our democratic system begs the question: Why are leading Republicans surrendering their party, and our nation, to a budding autocrat?
Two days ago, when asked if he is concerned about the direction of his party, McConnell told reporters that he is not paying attention to it because the Democrats are trying “to turn American into a socialist country,” and that “[o]ne-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”
In his April 28 address before a joint session of Congress, President Biden indicated he intended to reverse the course the government has been on since the Reagan years. “My fellow Americans,” Biden said, “trickle-down… economics has never worked, and it's time to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out.”
Republicans have tied themselves to the idea that, as Reagan said, “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” (although in 1981 he prefaced that statement with the words: “In this present crisis”). Since the 1990s, they have focused on tax cuts and deregulation as the key to building a strong economy, even though that program has moved wealth dramatically upward.
Today, Republicans interpreted a jobs report that showed job growth slowing in April as a sign that Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which pumped $1.9 trillion into the country to help it heal from the coronavirus recession, has failed. Rather than speeding up growth, they say, it is slowing it down. Biden pointed out that the nation has added 1.5 million jobs since he took office and that the recession will not end overnight, but Republicans insist that the federal $300 weekly unemployment checks included in the law are keeping people from going back to work.
The top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, issued a statement saying: “This is a stunning economic setback, and unequivocal proof that President Biden is sabotaging our jobs recovery with promises of higher taxes and regulation on local businesses that discourage hiring and drive jobs overseas.”
Citing help wanted ads, Republican governors in South Carolina, Montana, and Arkansas are ending the unemployment benefit in their own states to get people back to work. Other Republican-led states are suing the administration to force it to let them use the money provided in the American Rescue Plan not to offer help to workers, but to subsidize tax cuts. Meanwhile, still others at home are touting the benefits of the American Rescue Plan to their constituents without mentioning that they voted against it.
Americans appear to like the new direction of the country. Seventy-seven percent liked the American Rescue Plan and 56% like Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan for infrastructure, while 65% want to tax people making more than $400,000 a year to pay for it. At the same time, a new Pew poll suggests that the divisiveness of the Trump years is easing and that young people in particular are not interested in the culture wars.
Faced with the prospect of voters rejecting their economic policies, Republican leaders are undermining democracy.