Thirty years ago, Michael Kinsley wrote that “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” What came to be known as a “Kinsley gaffe” isn’t merely the unintentional statement of a truth, but a truth that everyone knows but politicians aren’t supposed to be foolish enough to say out loud.
Which is what happened on Thursday to Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.). If you’ve heard of her at all (she was appointed to fill the seat in April after Sen. Thad Cochran resigned), it’s probably because this week she got into trouble for making a joke about attending a public hanging. In Mississippi — where according to the NAACP, 581 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968 — that doesn’t go over too well, especially when your opponent in the runoff election is African American. But now Hyde-Smith is in trouble again for saying out loud what we all know:
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) is facing backlash for her remarks once again after saying laws that “make it just a little more difficult” for some college students to vote are “a great idea.”
A video tweeted Thursday afternoon shows Hyde-Smith telling a small crowd in Starkville, Miss., that “they remind me that there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.”
Her campaign said Thursday that the senator was joking and that the video was “selectively edited.”
I’m sure she was making a joke, of the “Ha ha, isn’t it funny that this is what we do but we actually get away with pretending it’s not what we’re doing!” variety.
This isn’t the first time a Republican has admitted that his or her voter suppression efforts are indeed about voter suppression; back in 2012, a state senator in Pennsylvania famously bragged that the voter-ID requirement Republicans passed “is gonna allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania” in the 2012 presidential election. What’s really remarkable is that they don’t say it more often, that they manage to keep up the act so much of the time.
It’s a tribute to their commitment to propaganda that Republicans can say with a straight face that their various suppression efforts — voter-ID laws, voter purges, closing polling places in minority neighborhoods, cutting down on early voting hours — have no purpose other than stopping phantom “voter fraud” and ensuring the efficient administration of elections. But they have good reason to keep up the act.
After all, voter suppression is working great for them. Yes, they just had historic losses in the midterm elections, but it would have been much worse had Republicans not made sure every American doesn’t have equal access to the ballot box.
Look at Brian Kemp in Georgia. After spending years implementing an ambitious voter suppression agenda seemingly targeted at minority voters, he appears to have won the Georgia governor’s race by a hair. He currently leads Democrat Stacey Abrams by around 59,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast. Had he not been so aggressive in making it difficult for the wrong people to vote, would he be winning?
Or take Florida, which has a long history of Republican voter suppression efforts targeted at African Americans. Do you think it was enough to make a difference in a Senate race that their candidate now leads by 0.2 percentage points and a governor’s race their candidate leads by 0.4 percentage points?
When you add those kinds of efforts to aggressive gerrymandering, you get a powerful combination that enables Republicans to win even when they don’t have the support of the majority of voters. Ohio provides a great example. This year the Supreme Court upheld the voter purge system Republicans in the state used to toss thousands of legitimate voters off the rolls, which research has shown has a disproportionate effect on Democratic voters. And even when Democrats can overcome that and get to the polls in sufficient numbers, it isn’t enough. This year Ohio voters split their votes in statehouse races almost evenly between the parties (Republicans had a one-point advantage), yet Republicans wound up with 63 percent of the seats. In Congress, Republicans kept control of 12 of the state’s 16 House seats.
In Wisconsin, it was even worse: Republicans won only 46 percent of the vote in state house races, but because of the extraordinary gerrymandering they engineered after taking control of the state’s government in 2010, they held on to 63 percent of the seats.
The lesson for Republicans is clear: Voter suppression works. And they’re almost certainly looking around at all the close races Democrats won this year and thinking, if only we could have made it “just a little more difficult” to vote, as Hyde-Smith says, things might have turned out differently. Which is why, wherever they have the power to do so, they’re going to redouble their efforts to put hurdles in front of the ballot box, particularly for minority voters. And they have a Supreme Court majority that will sign off on all of it.