The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is exposing the ugly truth about the GOP plan to retake power

A mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
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The Republican strategy for retaking power depends in no small part on undertaking maximum voter suppression and other anti-majoritarian efforts all over the country — while piously pretending this has nothing to do with diluting the impact of Democratic-aligned voters or keeping them from casting ballots at all.

The problem is that Donald Trump keeps giving away the game. The former president, who regularly proclaimed his corruption and contempt for democracy as positive attributes, keeps revealing the actual goal of the strategy right in broad daylight.

The New York Times has a remarkable new report that exposes the breadth of GOP voter suppression efforts. Party leaders and their conservative allies are seeking to coordinate the passage of bills — in multiple states — designed to make it harder to vote, justified by mythic voter fraud.

For instance, the Times reports, those efforts played a role in a radical package of bills moving forward in Georgia, which includes ending vote-by-mail for most voters and limiting Sunday voting drives, which are heavily utilized by African Americans.

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GOP leaders and their allies plan to export statutory language restricting voting to other states, and in many of them, extensive such efforts are already underway.

“The widespread coordination underscores the extent to which the dogma of voter fraud is embedded in the Republican Party,” the Times reports, bluntly noting that the GOP “views its path to regaining a foothold in Washington” through “an intense focus on re-engineering the voting system in states where it holds control.”

In other words, voter suppression is pivotal to GOP hopes of retaking the House and Senate in 2022, and the White House in 2024.

What ‘election integrity’ really means

The focus-grouped phrase justifying all this is “election integrity.” That’s the name of a new group, run by the Republican National Committee, that is developing more such proposals for export to states.

But Trump has already told us what standing for “election integrity” really means: making it harder to vote for the express purpose of making it easier for Republicans to win future elections.

Trump made this explicit during his Conservative Political Action Conference speech. He declared that the GOP must be the party of “election integrity” and that this means reversing efforts to make it easier to vote wherever possible and that this is an “urgent" matter facing the GOP.

Speaking about the 2020 election, Trump said: “We can never allow this to happen again.”

It is “urgent” for the GOP to make it harder to vote wherever possible, in the name of “election integrity,” and the 2020 election loss drove this home.

GOP officials are acting on Trump’s understanding

Importantly, this is not Trump projecting his own corrupt motives on to what Republicans are doing. Rather, it’s that Republicans are acting on precisely that very same understanding of the situation.

This nugget from the Times lays it all bare:

To head its election integrity committee, the Republican National Committee tapped Joe Gruters, the Florida Republican Party chairman who in January used a #stopthesteal hashtag and advertised ways for Republicans to attend the Jan. 6 rally that ended with a riot at the Capitol.
“No matter where I go as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, it’s basically the only thing everybody is talking about among the base,” Mr. Gruters said.
Like nearly all of the Republicans involved in the party’s voter integrity efforts, Mr. Gruters declined to characterize Mr. Biden’s victory as legitimate, despite there being no evidence of widespread fraud and multiple state audits reaffirming the results. “There are a lot of people who have a lot of questions about the 2020 race.”

The call for “election integrity” is now inseparable from the claim that the election was stolen from Trump. That’s a lie, but the fact that so many Republican base voters believe it — which Trump and Republican officials themselves brought into being — is itself the stated justification to continue.

But we are not obliged to pretend that these Republican officials actually believe their lies about the election. Once we liberate ourselves of that notion, the plain truth comes into view: The same justification Trump used to incite an effort to violently subvert the 2020 election’s conclusion is now being used to manipulate future elections, by preventing as many Democratic-aligned voters, untold numbers of them African American, from voting as possible.

Trump revealed this core truth again this week, when he endorsed a Republican primary opponent to Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, claiming he would fight for “secure elections.”

But Trump’s real beef with Raffensperger is that he wouldn’t carry out Trump’s corrupt demand that he “find” votes canceling Democratic ones. Republicans who are truly carrying the Trump mantle must be willing to invalidate Democratic votes by any means necessary.

Getting this story right

To be clear, these efforts may fail. Restrictions on mail voting may impede GOP voters, or voter suppression may spark a counter-mobilization from Democratic constituencies. That said, it’s notable that Republicans themselves say extreme gerrymanders will help recapture the House.

But either way, the sheer blatancy of what’s being attempted imposes obligations on other institutional players. As Ari Berman notes, Democrats have a “once-in-a-century” opportunity to pass sweeping voting rights protections, which might require reforming the filibuster.

Jay Rosen argues that Trump’s months-long effort to steal the election, culminating in violence, shattered the political media’s both-sidesing tendencies, forcing it out of its posture of false neutrality and into siding with democracy against efforts to destroy it.

If so, the fact that the same lies that inspired those events are being weaponized to justify a national wave of tactics — ones that are expressly and unabashedly anti-democratic to their core in their fundamental reason for being — should do the same.

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