The increasingly all-white Republican Party, faced with a demographic tsunami that will all but guarantee its continuing marginalization as a national political party, has been striking back with one of the most insidious weapons in its dirty-tricks arsenal: Trying to limit the ability of minorities to vote.
This strategy to undermine one of the most fundamental of American rights has gained traction in 21 Republican-controlled states since the 2010 election, including several swing states. Voter suppression laws will be in effect for the first time in 14 states next year for a presidential election in which the increasingly right-wing GOP has to find a candidate palatable to mainstream voters while confronted with the reality that virtually no blacks and few Hispanics and Asian-Americans will vote their way because they simply are not welcome under the formerly big GOP tent.
Not surprisingly, of the 11 Republican-controlled states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, seven have new voting restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, while of the 12 Republican-controlled states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, nine have passed laws making it harder to vote.
Voter suppression is a nightmare in the making for the Democratic Party because, by my reckoning, there are only two ways for the Republicans to retake the White House next year: By suppressing the Democratic vote in enough states to eek out victory, or for the conservative-dominated Supreme Court to throw the election to the party as it did in 2000. Republicans got a big boost in their efforts to disenfranchise voters in 2013 when the ever helpful high court put a stake through the heart of the Voting Rights Act.
By any measure, voter fraud is a miniscule problem, and attempts to characterize it as rampant simply do not stand up to scrutiny. From 2002 to 2008, the Bush Justice Department was unable to prosecute a single case of voter fraud, while a comprehensive 2014 Washington Post investigation found 37 cases of fraud out of one billion ballots cast.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a former high-ranking Bush Justice Department adviser, has been an especially zealous propagator of fears that immigrants in particular are engaging in voter fraud in his four years in office. Problem is, Kansas has prosecuted only a single voter fraud case on his watch. Kobach also has railed against dead people voting and cited a Kansan named Alfred K. Brewer as a typical culprit. There was only one problem: Brewer was alive and well, and the Wichita Eagle found him raking leaves in his front yard.
"I don't think this is heaven," Brewer told the paper. "Not when I'm raking leaves."
So why is it so damned difficult to vote in the first place? Why do not Americans automatically become eligible to vote at age 18 as is typically the case in many other countries? And why not make early voting -- a proven way of reducing long lines on Election Day -- the law of the land? Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton posed those very questions last week in pushing back against Republican voter suppression efforts.
The overriding answer is that the Republican Party as it now is constituted in Congress is not going to enact anything to make it easier to vote. As it is, only Oregon comes close in automatically registering eligible citizens with a driver’s license. More than one-third of all votes in the 2012 were cast early, but 14 states have no such provision and several Republican-controlled swing states actually have cut back on early voting.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, among other Republican champions of voter suppression, accused Clinton of "demagoguery" and lamented that she was "running around the country dividing Americans." (I suppose they might say the same thing about billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is gifting the Democratic Party a cool $5 million for lawsuits against the restrictive state laws.)
Clinton noted that the Republican efforts don't just include marginalizing minorities. Restricting student voters is part of the GOP scheme because they tend to be diverse, tolerant and inclusive, three things today's GOP most definitely is not.
"What part of democracy are they afraid of?" Clinton asked of her critics. Good question.
SCORCHED EARTH SCOTT MARCHES ON
Having neutered state employee unions, Wisconsin Governor and GOP president candidate Scott Walker is now taking aim at the academically excellent University of Wisconsin system by trying to undermine the faculty's role in campus governance through weakening tenure.
Walker, who escaped a recall vote in 2012, is branding himself as a plain-speaking, Miller-drinking, cheap-clothes-wearing, Harley-riding guy who understands the struggles of the middle class, and what better way to appeal to the conservatives whose support he needs if he is to win the nomination than by going after those liberal professors who pollute young minds.
It matters not to Walker that his proposal to gut the tenure system might irreparably damage the University of Wisconsin, where Dick Cheney among many other notables got degrees. This is because while tenured positions typically make up only 20 percent of the faculty of four-year colleges with the rest of the positions mostly filled by part-timers, the tenured profs are the magnets for grants, students who excel, and for those part-timers.
The tenure system was created to protect academics from political reprisals, and current Wisconsin state law respects this tradition, allowing tenured faculty to be fired only for just cause or in financial emergencies. Walker already has pushed through devastating spending cuts, while his long-term goal is to pick off faculty undesirables by removing tenure from state law and leaving the matter of who teaches to the university system's 18-member Board of Regents, 16 of whom are appointed by the governor. They will, of course, have substantially vaguer standards at their disposal for firing faculty.
WILL THE BIRTHER RUN AGAIN?
The only person the already crowded Republican presidential primary clown car lacks to be a full monty is Donald Trump.
The bad-hair real-estate mogol is playing coy about whether he will run. "In my own mind, I’ve decided, but I haven’t made it official – that’s for the 16th," Trump said in referring to a scheduled announcement on June 16 in a phone call to MSNBC from Iowa. "Can’t tell you yet, though I’d like to!"
Trump told the news network that he is "excited" to see "strong" poll numbers, but that would depend on the poll.
The birther leads 2016 hopefuls like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in Iowa polling, but isn't doing so hot in a national poll in which 21 percent of Republicans said they would "definitely would not support" him and just 5 percent said they would vote for him if the election were held today.
PHOTOGRAPH FROM USELECTIONATLAS.ORG