What does it say about a political party when its chief strategy is to prevent as many people as possible from voting — and its leader admits as much?

That is where Republicans find themselves heading into the 2020 election.

For the latest, breathtaking example of this pathology, look at Iowa. On June 2, Iowa held a highly successful primary, with record turnout — and Republicans in the state legislature immediately initiated action to ensure the success is not repeated in the fall.

Yes, not repeated. For many Republicans, a high-turnout, no-chaos election is a result to be avoided at all costs.

In fairness, not all Republicans. The secretary of state who engineered Iowa’s primary success, Paul Pate, is also a Republican. To allow for safe voting in a time of pandemic, Pate mailed every registered voter an absentee ballot request form — not a ballot, mind you, just a request form — and extended the early voting period from 29 days to 40 days.

“My goal was to protect Iowa voters and poll workers while finding ways to conduct a clean and fair election,” Pate told the Des Moines Register.

Well, there was your mistake. A clean and fair election? GOP senators rushed in to make sure that won’t happen again. On Wednesday, the GOP-controlled state senate approved legislation to bar Pate from sending absentee ballot request forms to anyone who hasn’t asked for one.

Iowa’s county auditors, who administer elections, pronounced themselves “baffled” by the legislation, given the “very successful” primary, as Roxanna Moritz, head of their association, noted.

It’s not baffling to anyone who has been following Republican vote-limiting efforts around the country. The GOP has gone to great lengths to shrink and control the voter rolls, particularly trying to impede young people and black people from voting.

Many of their methods predate the coronavirus pandemic: obstructive voter-ID laws; closing polling places in selected neighborhoods so that voters must travel long distances or wait in long lines; impeding voting in college towns; finding pretexts to scrub voters from the rolls; opposing automatic or same-day registration; blocking former prisoners from voting, even when (as in Florida) nearly two-thirds of voters approve a referendum saying former felons who have served their time should be allowed to vote.

Now, in coronavirus time, they have gone into overdrive, doing everything they can to block the orderly issuing and processing of absentee ballots, which will be essential in November if the virus is still rampaging. They limit access as narrowly as possible where they are in control, as in Texas; they sue where they are not, as in California.

When they bother to justify this extraordinarily destructive campaign, Republicans generally pretend they are fighting election fraud. Fraud does exist — most recently, committed by Republicans in a North Carolina congressional race — but it is rare. Absentee voting would not greatly increase the risk, particularly if Congress adequately funded state election offices for the emergency — which, in another chaos-enhancing move, Republican senators are refusing to do.

No, fraud is just the excuse. President Trump early in his term appointed a commission with the express mission of locating this Loch Ness monster of Republican mythology, and it collapsed in utter, embarrassed failure.

Then in March, as he is wont to do, Trump gave the game away. Referring to a Democratic proposal to allow more vote-by-mail, he said, “They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Why would the leader of the world’s oldest democracy oppose high levels of voting? And why would one of the nation’s two leading parties fear high levels of voting? Why would Republicans not instead try to win those votes?

The answer is not much of a puzzle. The party has hitched itself to a leader whose appeal is based on nostalgia for a racist past. In a changing America, where most voters would prefer a vision of an improved future, this is not a message that can win a majority of votes if turnout is unimpeded.

So Republicans do everything they can to suppress turnout, and black turnout most of all.

It is a strategy born of moral and intellectual bankruptcy. A political party with faith in itself and its ideas competes by offering the most attractive possible candidates and policies, and trying to win the most support.

Sadly, that is no longer the Republican way.

Read more: