Post-midterm strat­egy: thiev­ery

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Fol­low Dana Milbank on Twit­ter, @Milbank.

After the Repub­li­can Party’s losses in 2012, GOP el­ders un­der­took an “au­topsy” to dis­cover the cause. This year, Repub­li­cans have opted in­stead for a good em­balm­ing. 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’s 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 high­wa­ter 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 al­le­ga­tion­ss­wirling 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 an­tidemo­cratic 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. They also tried to re­strict early vot­ing and to move an elec­tion to a day when fewer Democrats are sure to show up to vote against a con­ser­va­tive state jus­tice.

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 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.

Dana Milbank Colum­nist

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