February 27, 2013

Every smart Republican in town is saying the same thing: If they don’t expand their party’s ranks, they don’t have a future.

Republican efforts at suppressing minority voters through a myriad of state laws last year, however, have made that mission tougher. The consequences of those desperate maneuvers, along with the accompanying vitriolic rhetoric, are weighing on the GOP now as its leaders make another run at rebranding a party that needs new ideas more than it needs a new message.

That’s why this week’s Supreme Court review of the Voting Rights Act comes at such a terrible time for the GOP.

While many Republicans have decided that their party needs some form of minority outreach, a second group –- consisting of “voter fraud” myth peddlers such as Hans von Spakovsky –- thinks that it can squeeze a couple more victories out of Republicans’ shrinking coalition, albeit through disreputable means.

Now, these two groups are on opposing sides of an important Supreme Court case. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court’s conservative majority seems poised to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires Justice Department oversight of states with a history of minority disenfranchisement. The more reactionary Republicans claim this requirement is outdated and obsolete, an argument that seems popular among the court’s conservatives. The chief justice himself is fond of saying that we are “a different nation” than the one that enacted the Voting Rights Act.

But at the same time, the Republicans who have pushed restrictive voter ID laws, encouraged Electoral College gimmickry and professed themselves unconcerned about long wait times at polling places are highlighting just how little has changed.

If the Supreme Court preserves the Voting Rights Act, this element of the right will have suffered a setback. But if the conservative court decides that its legacy will include dismantling a key achievement of the civil rights movement, they will have scored a “victory” that only underscores how much conservative ideas are out of touch with –- and unappealing to –- the America of 2013.

Because if Chief Justice John Roberts and the rest of the court strike down Section 5, no amount of rebranding will hide the fact that the Republican Party would rather continue to block people from voting than learn how to appeal to them.