Republicans Are Digging Their Own Graves on Election Reform

H.R. 1, dubbed the “For the People Act,” is a nearly 800-page poison pill. Whatever its stated purposes about reforming U.S. election procedures, the bill’s wide array of prescriptions would create more problems than they solve. But that’s beside the point. The real purpose of H.R. 1 is to consolidate power through the centralization of electoral processes, taking power away from the states and placing it into appendages of the managerial regime.  

Most of the arguments for the passage of H.R. 1 are based on dogmatic and simplistic claims of racial grievances, summed up in the vacuous and vapid slogan: “If something is a relic of Jim Crow, then we ought to get rid of it.” It would be more accurate to say that if something can be connected, however tenuously, to the apparition of “systemic racism,” Democrats will try to justify killing it. Happily for the Left, the “systemic” definition of the new racism is their wholly-owned subsidiary which they more than willingly lend to their political arm, the Democratic Party.

Naturally, many Republicans are struggling to come up with a response to the racialization of the policy debate around the bill—rather than simply rejecting these terms, as they should, outright. But one aspect of H.R. 1 that has received less attention has some Republican interest groups scared straight. 

Popular Messaging Hides Terrible Policies

H.R. 1 contains elements of campaign finance reform, the letter of the law rendering it ripe for weaponization, but the spirit of which understandably resonates with many of the GOP’s constituents. “Specifically, support for the bill’s measures forcing more disclosures of secret donors was so broad that a senior operative from the Koch network advised just killing it in Congress rather than trying to turn the tide of public opinion,” Kate Riga reported in Talking Points Memo.

Riga points to a leaked recording of a private meeting between a policy adviser to McConnell and conservative operatives. “Unfortunately, we’ve found that that is a winning message, for both the general public and also conservatives,” Kyle McKenzie reportedly said during the meeting. McKenzie is the research director for Stand Together, a Koch-funded mouthpiece. McKenzie confessed that framing H.R. 1 as a bill with the power to stop billionaires from buying elections is broadly popular.

Of course, the bill’s provisions are not intended merely to root out dark money in our elections but would, in reality, serve as a cudgel against the opposition to the Democratic Party—but what matters most now is what the public thinks H.R. 1 will do. And on this point, Republicans have only themselves to blame for their constituents’ confusion about their intentions. 

Recall that just recently, South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem caved to corporate interests and the NCAA instead of defending her voters’ interests on an important piece of legislation protecting women and girls in sports. 

Even as the GOP blames the Biden Administration for the crisis on the southern border, fundraising on the outrage, nine House Republicans joined Democrats voting in favor of a massive amnesty bill that would include a path to citizenship for approximately 4 million illegal aliens. At the same time, 30 Republicans voted in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which is really just slavery by another name delivered on behalf of industries demanding an endless flow of cheap labor while nearly 17 million Americans remain unemployed.

Populism Remains Popular—And Neglected

The Democratic Party can turn its back on its voters just as easily as the GOP, but their constituents are not so often and so brutally put down—the Democrats, whatever their flaws, tend to exercise the power they are given more effectively. A 2015 study by Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the Political Reform program at the New America Foundation, shows just how profound this problem is on the Right.

“Drutman calculated that in the United States, ‘populists’—defined as those who favored maintaining or increasing Social Security spending, while maintaining or decreasing immigration—made up 40.3 percent of the electorate,” Michael Lind writes in The New Class War. “The two groups that wanted to cut Social Security and increase immigration, ‘business conservatives’ (3.8 percent), who are better described as ‘neoliberals,’ and ‘political conservatives’ (2.4 percent), who might also be described as ‘libertarians,’ made up only 6.2 percent of voters.”

And yet, Lind notes, although populists outnumber neoliberals and libertarians by more than six to one in the American electorate, no party—least of all the GOP, though it recently has been pleased to pretend it is a working-class party—represents their views faithfully.

“Drutman speculates that neoliberalism is the view of ‘the wealthy donors who are eager to cut entitlements because they are worried about high taxes and are also eager to expand immigration because they’d like to have more potential employees to choose from,’” Lind writes. Both populists and “business Republicans” tend to favor the Republican Party, but the “business Republicans, whose preferences Republican politicians promote, on average make $69,711 a year, around $30,000 more than the Republican populists, whose preferences most Republican politicians ignore.” 

In other words, the GOP inadvertently has made the strongest case to its own voters that campaign finance reform is needed because it has consistently acted in ways that work against the interests of its own constituents. Indeed, Koch money hijacked the Trump Administration, and Koch operatives and representatives such as Brooke Rollins ended up in the highest seats of power at the White House, turning what began as a populist presidency into a corporate catering service, pushing prison and police reform, and even amnesty

The fate of H.R. 1 is unclear. What is certain, however, is that no party can dig its own grave like the GOP does, while wondering aloud who is tossing in the dirt.

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About Pedro Gonzalez

Pedro Gonzalez is associate editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He publishes the weekly Contra newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @emeriticus.

Photo: Ty O'Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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