The GOP’s War Against Voting Rights

How Trump and Congressional Republicans are trying to make it harder to vote.

Included in the stimulus bill put together by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats was a provision that established “a national requirement for both 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail.” That one apparently got under Trump’s skin.

Trump basically admitted that if more people voted, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” A lot of people assume that he said the quiet parts out loud when it comes to Republican efforts to suppress the vote. But just as Trump represents the culmination of many of the foundational principles on which the modern-day GOP was founded, the party has demonstrated over time that they aren’t particularly fond of democracy.

As Katherine Stewart documented in her book, The Power Worshippers, Paul Weyrich is often credited as the founder of the modern-day conservative movement. Even though he was not a particularly religious man, he developed a coalition between Goldwater Republicans and the religious right, which became the base that has elected every Republican president from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump.

Here is something Weyrich said at a gathering of religious leaders back in 1980.

Weyrich clearly stated that he didn’t want everyone to vote. He went on to say that, for Republicans, “our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.” That was basically an admission that the majority of Americans don’t support Republican principles.

As far back as 1980, the whole idea of a so-called “moral majority” was a lie—and people like Weyrich knew it. Rather than attempt to reflect the will of voters, Republicans simply decided that, as Zachary Roth put it, “being outnumbered doesn’t have to mean losing.” Voter suppression was therefore embraced as a conservative principle.

More recently, Ari Berman documented the decades-long battle against the Voting Rights Act that was waged by our current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—John Roberts. The seeds of that battle were planted while Roberts served as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, as well as his time in the Reagan Justice Department. It culminated in the Shelby vs Holder case when the Court overturned key elements of the Voting Rights Act, leading to a new wave of voter suppression efforts in the states.

Last year, when House Democrats passed a bill that included democratic reforms to campaign finance, ethics and voting rights, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the quiet parts out loud when he called them a “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” Once again, the inference is that, if more people vote, Democrats will be elected.

Those are just a few examples from the last forty years. But since our founding, rich white men have tried to limit the franchise to themselves. Here’s what Roth wrote about Alexander Hamilton’s only major speech at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Hamilton said the system should allow the “rich and the well born” to maintain their supremacy, since they would oppose radical change pushed by “the many.” The goal, he said, was to “check the imprudence of democracy.”

It is only through the blood, sweat, and tears of various movements that voting rights have been expanded in this country as a foundational principle of democracy. Obviously, that battle still rages on.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.