The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion My party is destroying itself on the altar of Trump

A man casts his ballot on the floor of the Forum arena in Inglewood, Calif., on Saturday. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
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Benjamin L. Ginsberg practiced election law for 38 years. He co-chaired the bipartisan 2013 Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

President Trump has failed the test of leadership. His bid for reelection is foundering. And his only solution has been to launch an all-out, multimillion-dollar effort to disenfranchise voters — first by seeking to block state laws to ease voting during the pandemic, and now, in the final stages of the campaign, by challenging the ballots of individual voters unlikely to support him.

This is as un-American as it gets. It returns the Republican Party to the bad old days of “voter suppression” that landed it under a court order to stop such tactics — an order lifted before this election. It puts the party on the wrong side of demographic changes in this country that threaten to make the GOP a permanent minority.

These are painful words for me to write. I spent four decades in the Republican trenches, representing GOP presidential and congressional campaigns, working on Election Day operations, recounts, redistricting and other issues, including trying to lift the consent decree.

The jockeying for the post-Trump future of the Republican Party has started, says Post columnist Max Boot. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Johnathan Newton/Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

Nearly every Election Day since 1984 I’ve worked with Republican poll watchers, observers and lawyers to record and litigate any fraud or election irregularities discovered.

The truth is that over all those years Republicans found only isolated incidents of fraud. Proof of systematic fraud has become the Loch Ness Monster of the Republican Party. People have spent a lot of time looking for it, but it doesn’t exist.

As he confronts losing, Trump has devoted his campaign and the Republican Party to this myth of voter fraud. Absent being able to articulate a cogent plan for a second term or find an attack against Joe Biden that will stick, disenfranchising enough voters has become key to his reelection strategy.

Perhaps this was the plan all along. The president’s unsubstantiated talk about “rigged” elections caused by absentee ballot “fraud” and “cheating” has been around since 2016; it’s just increased in recent weeks.

Trump has enlisted a compliant Republican Party in this shameful effort. The Trump campaign and Republican entities engaged in more than 40 voting and ballot court cases around the country this year. In exactly none — zero — are they trying to make it easier for citizens to vote. In many, they are seeking to erect barriers.

Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center warns that the president is doing the work of our foreign adversaries by undermining the legitimacy of the U.S. election. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Evan Vucci/AP/The Washington Post)

All of the suits include the mythical fraud claim. Many are efforts to disqualify absentee ballots, which have surged in the pandemic. The grounds range from supposedly inadequate signature matches to burdensome witness requirements. Others concern excluding absentee ballots postmarked on Election Day but received later, as permitted under state deadlines. Voter-convenience devices such as drop boxes and curbside voting have been attacked.

Texas Republicans even thought it was a good idea to challenge 100,000 ballots already cast at a Harris County drive-through voting center that they want retroactively declared illegal. Perhaps they forgot the Republican expressions of outrage in Florida in 2000 when Democrats sought unsuccessfully to exclude 25,000 absentee ballots in GOP counties because of administrative error, not voter fault.

I was there, and I haven’t.

The GOP lawyers managing these lawsuits may have tactical reasons for bringing each. But taken as a whole, they shout the unmistakable message that an expanded electorate means Trump loses.

This attempted disenfranchisement of voters cannot be justified by the unproven Republican dogma about widespread fraud. Challenging voters at the polls or disputing the legitimacy of mail-in ballots isn’t about fraud. Rather than producing conservative policies that appeal to suburban women, young voters or racial minorities, Republicans are trying to exclude their votes.

“We have volunteers, attorneys and staff in place to ensure that election officials are following the law and counting every lawful ballot,” Justin Riemer, chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, said Friday.

That’s not precisely true. The Republican challenging effort is focused almost exclusively in heavily Democratic areas. Signature mismatches will go unheeded by Trump forces in friendly precincts. This is not about finding fraud and irregularities. It’s about suppressing the number of votes not cast for Trump.

Maybe the president foreshadowed his real purpose at a Pennsylvania rally Saturday night, predicting “bedlam” if the results aren’t known Nov. 3. In fact, challenged ballots aren’t reviewed until days later. So in a tight race, Trump’s demands for a quick result could cause the very bedlam he rails against. Or allow him to claim a false election night victory based on bad-faith challenges.

How sad it is to recall that just seven years ago the Grand Old Party conducted an “autopsy” that emphasized the urgency of building a big tent to reach communities of color, women and young voters. Now it is erecting voting barriers for those very groups. Instead of enlarging the tent, the party has taken a chain saw to its center pole.

My party is destroying itself on the Altar of Trump. Republican elected officials, party leaders and voters must recognize how harmful this is to the party’s long-term prospects.

My fellow Republicans, look what we’ve become. It is we who must fix this. Trump should not be reelected. Vote, but not for him.

Read more:

Benjamin L. Ginsberg: Republicans have insufficient evidence to call elections ‘rigged’ and ‘fraudulent’

Dana Milbank: Republicans’ only way to win is to stop people from voting

Greg Sargent: Explosive early voting is already transforming our politics

Jennifer Rubin: How early voting deters GOP voter suppression

Max Boot: We have to destroy the Republican Party in order to save it