Right now the Republican Party comes off like a bunch of arsonists demanding stronger fire codes.
After spending months sewing doubt about what, by all accounts, was a free and fair election, the party is proposing “reforms” designed to fix the problems that exist only in the imaginations of unhinged conspiracy theorists.
Don’t let the irony of that be lost on you. Aside from the top job, the GOP actually did very well in the November elections. They picked up 12 seats in the House and did well in statehouse races all over the country. Here in Wisconsin, they lost two seats in the Assembly, but still hold a massive, gerrymander-assisted majority there. They picked up two seats in the state Senate.
So, if the fall elections were so bogus, wouldn’t that call into question all of their successes? Well, no, somehow the Republican legislators want you to believe that all that fraud was limited to votes stolen from Donald Trump while it didn’t taint their own elections on the very same ballots.
The flurry of election changes introduced in Wisconsin are mostly mind-numbing in their picky detail, but the gist is to make it harder to vote, pure and simple. For example, one proposal would outlaw Madison’s successful program to allow voters to drop off their ballots with certified poll workers in city parks. Rather than try to quash a good idea, you would think that the party of personal initiative would just copy that program in Republican-leaning communities. Nope.
The one idea that makes sense is to allow communities to start counting absentee ballots before election day, so that results could be announced soon after the polls closed. Other than that, you can expect that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will veto anything else that gets to his desk, as well he should.
But all this raises the bigger question: What’s the Grand Old Party so afraid of?
At every turn, Republicans want to avoid a fair fight of ideas. In Wisconsin, Act 10 was mostly about defanging public employee unions as political entities supporting Democrats. In 2011, the party produced the most extremely skewed maps possible, handing them just under two-thirds of legislative seats after every election, while statewide votes are routinely almost evenly split between the parties. Now, they want to rig the system so that the inevitable court challenge to what will surely be a new round of partisan maps winds up in the State Supreme Court, where they hold a 4-3 advantage.
Basically, the Republican play book has three broad strategies: draw legislative districts to their advantage, suppress Democratic voters, and hobble entities that might help Democrats.
All of that leads a person to believe that the party doesn’t have much confidence that its ideas could prevail in a game where the field wasn’t tilted and the rules weren’t stacked to its advantage.
I’m not so sure about that. For example, I’m a center-left moderate and not especially partisan. If I had the choice between a hard-left Democrat and a moderate, Mitt Romney-style Republican, I would certainly at least give that Republican a fair hearing. But the problem is that, by so vigorously cementing in its advantages, the Republicans are also producing more and more extreme candidates. Given a choice between a hard-left Democrat and a conspiracy-mongering Trump devotee (e.g., Sen. Ron Johnson) I’ll still vote for the Democrat.
So, it’s possible, that in the end, all of this will come back to haunt the Republicans. Rather than expanding their base, they’ve become even more insulated and extreme. Let’s hope they end up paying the price for all their trickery and that the end result is a return to a more moderate and sensible party.