After the 2012 loss in the presidential election that seemed to take by surprise candidate Mitt Romney and the Republican leadership, though the writing on the wall had been visible for weeks before, the party conducted a serious post-mortem that concluded that in the future they had to find ways to reach out to minority groups, since the party’s share of those votes had been steadily declining since George W. Bush ran, while the proportion of minority groups was steadily rising.
The party also felt that the chaotic primary race in 2012, with the large number of candidates that started out, also hurt the party by damaging the establishment candidate Romney. The large number of primary debates was also seen as counter-productive. They vowed to correct all those things this time around but as we have seen, that did not quite work out as planned.
One cannot completely blame the party for this year’s debacle. They could not have anticipated that Donald Trump would enter the race and act like a bull in a china shop, though they can be blamed for planting the seeds of anger and resentment of minorities that enabled him to ride a wave of xenophobia and nativism and bigotry to crush this year’s establishment candidate Jeb Bush and seize the nomination.
Since voting rates in America are quite low, of the order of 60%, there are a large number of non-voters who can be appealed to. Trump clearly seems to think that if he can enrage white voters enough so that traditional non-voters can be persuaded to come out this year and vote on election day in sufficiently large numbers, and if the party can suppress the votes of minority and the poor by imposing barriers to their registration and voting, then they could offset the low support they had from these latter groups.
While the idea of appealing to minorities has gone down the tubes with Trump’s campaign rhetoric, their voter suppression efforts initially received a huge boost with the US Supreme Court’s 2013 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required states that had a history of disenfranchising minority voters to require pre-clearance from the Justice Department before implementing any changes in voting laws.
For Republican-controlled states it was as if Christmas had arrived early. Under the guise of preventing voter fraud, a non-existent problem, they rushed into place all manner of regulations that made it harder to register and vote. North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas, and Kansas were among states enacting such laws.
But what has happened this year is that the courts have been partially or completely striking down the laws in all these states with the most significant rulings coming in the cases of North Carolina and Texas.
In the North Carolina ruling, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously made the point that just because the restrictions were targeted at reducing the voting of groups that normally support the Democratic party, that did not mean that they could be treated as simply part of the normal political process whereby each party tries to maximize its political advantage. They said that the record showed that the law was carefully crafted on the basis of correlations found between racial groups and their voting patterns. The ruling said that the laws targeted minorities with almost “surgical precision”. They found that every one of the new voting requirements were those that minority groups that voted Democratic tended to lack or would find hard to get. So although the Republicans might argue that their intent was to merely suppress Democratic votes, the effect of their laws was to make it harder for minority groups to vote, and thus these laws came under the kind of scrutiny required whenever issues involving racial discrimination is involved.
Voting restrictions were also struck down by a US District Court judge in Wisconsin and a state county judge Kansas, while the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the most conservative of all the Appeals Courts, struck down by a 9-6 majority the Texas law. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on August 4th about laws passed by Ohio in 2014 that make it difficult for particularly African-Americans and low-income voters to vote. Similar fights are taking place in other states.
Back in North Carolina, the governor Pat McCrory says that he will take his appeal to the US Supreme Court even though his own attorney general says that his office will not appeal the ruling. Such an appeal seems pointless given the fact that, even if granted, any ruling will likely be tied 4-4 in the absence of justice Scalia. This means that the Appeals Court verdict will stand.
Back on October 23, 2013, The Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi had a great piece on the North Carolina law suppressing the vote where a Republican official named Don Yelton freely conceded that the purpose of the voting laws was to suppress Democratic votes. In the process he revealed his views on race, which were not pretty. Soon after, he was fired by the GOP for his remarks.
Yelton’s comments on the show that “If [SL 2013-381] hurts the whites so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it” even made it into a footnote of the Appeals Court opinion. Yelton is furious at the way he is being treated by his own party and has issued a tirade against the GOP leadership.
Now Trump is using these reversals on limiting voting to pre-emptively explain away a possible loss in November and buttress his argument that the election is rigged against him because now people may vote as many as ten times.