After a midterm drubbing that cost Republicans about 40 House seats — the best Democratic performance since the Watergate era -- there has been, as the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin put it, “little self-examination among Republicans” nor any effort by leaders “to confront why the party’s once-loyal base of suburban supporters abandoned it.”
There is good reason for this: As long as President Trump is in office, those voters probably aren’t coming back to the party, whose base of older white men may well have hit its high-water mark in 2016.
So GOP efforts are by necessity focused not on reviving the party but on preserving the corpse — not on reaching out to the growing parts of the electorate but artificially preserving the power of their aging, white, rural voters. With enough formaldehyde, much is possible.
In North Carolina, state authorities have refused to certify Republican Mark Harris as the winner of the 9th Congressional District while investigators look into election-fraud allegations swirling around a consultant who worked for Harris.
In Wisconsin, Republicans in the state legislature, reacting to their party’s loss of both the governorship and attorney general’s post, have introduced a flurry of bills to weaken the power of the incoming Democrats and to deter future Democratic voters. A similar effort is underway in Michigan.
What the efforts have in common is thievery: the alleged theft of Democratic votes in the North Carolina case and, in the Wisconsin and Michigan power grabs, a more open heist of authority. What Republicans didn’t win at the polls, they would seek to preserve by pilfering.
This follows efforts at voter-ID laws in many states and other restrictions that disproportionately affect minority voters. This was most prominent in Georgia last month, where Secretary of State Brian Kemp narrowly won the governorship after his office pruned more than 100,000 people from voter rolls, invalidated many absentee ballots and limited polling in some minority communities.
At the federal level, the Trump administration has been defending in court its decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, which would deter even legal immigrants from participating and thus reduce their voting power when legislative districts are redrawn after 2020. A document released last month showed that the administration has considered illegally sharing census data with law enforcement — an added deterrent.
And the Trump administration has continued to champion the gerrymandering that served as a firewall against even greater GOP losses, most recently with the judicial nomination of Thomas Farr, who helped to create a North Carolina voting law that an appellate court said discriminated against African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” Opposition from Tim Scott, S.C., the lone black Republican in the Senate, doomed the nomination last week.
The Republican strategy is anti-democratic but not irrational. Though the country isn’t expected to become majority-nonwhite until around midcentury, Trump has accelerated the flight from the GOP of young, minority, female and college-educated voters. Without a new leader, Republicans’ only option may be increasingly flagrant efforts to stop would-be Democratic voters from casting ballots.
It would be difficult to get more flagrant than Wisconsin Republicans have been this week with their legislation to seize control of economic, health, legal and gun policy from the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.
Then there’s North Carolina’s 9th District, where, after a suspicious spike in absentee-ballot requests from Bladen County, many voters said that people came to collect their ballots, and a disproportionate number of ballots mailed to minority voters were never returned. Witnesses have linked the irregularities to a Republican operative with a criminal record who helped GOP candidate Harris win by 905 votes, The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner and Kirk Ross report.
This is just the sort of thing you’d think would attract the attention of Trump, who repeatedly rails about voter fraud — citing it most often among the 230 times he has identified fraud in everything from former president Barack Obama’s birth certificate to Bob Woodward’s book, according to the Factba.se database. Trump set up an ill-fated commission to find the millions of illegal voters he claims cost him the popular vote in 2016, and he recently alleged that people vote repeatedly by changing hats in their cars.
Now there are serious and well-substantiated accusations of election fraud in North Carolina, in support of the Republicans. And from Trump? A telling silence.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.