One of the most startling gaps in the literature on the function of political parties is the lack of discussion about the most important reason they exist: to protect their voters from the abuses of government and the totalitarian temptations of the opposition party.
The formation of political parties grew from a need to organize people and get them to the polls around a set of ideas that could be put into practical action. As they originally functioned, there was a reciprocal relationship between citizens and parties. Yet, on a practical and self-interested level, the party had appeal for voters because of the benefits it bestowed on those who supported it.
This was certainly the case under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Democrats then made sure the party protected its base. Whether the ends pursued by the Democratic Party of that time can be supported or not, it remains that the party represented its voters, and protected them in the process.
In the past, parties used to be the sole responsible agents to get their voters to the polls. They did this numerous ways, not all of them, shall we say, ethical by today’s standards. After all, George Washington is known to have offered alcohol as a way to secure votes. It was under this wide open, mostly unregulated, party system that many of the founders were, in fact, elected. That process more or less continued through the elections of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
The modern version of securing the vote is no different. Harvesting is essentially the same practice. The Democrats have always been astute masters of this practice. A party member will show up to your door and ask if you have filled out the ballot. If you have not, or protest you’ll do it later, they will return another day, and then another day, until you consent to give it to them. In 11 states, it is perfectly legal for a voter to hand over a ballot to anyone of his or her choosing. While there are examples of people filling out the ballots for the mentally incapacitated, or similarly situated voters, this does not constitute the way the majority of votes are secured through ballot harvesting.
The modern system, especially during COVID and now in the post-COVID era, collects votes over weeks instead of getting out the vote on Election Day. Leaving aside the potential for fraud and many other questions surrounding the integrity of the vote, the responsibility to get out the vote of your constituents remains the same. If, however, you account for fraud—which has always occurred in elections even with same-day, paper-ballot voting—the aim of the parties was to get out the vote of their party in greater numbers so that the fraud is overwhelmed.
This is where the Republican Party has failed miserably.
Our beautiful losers have remained so dedicated to their “principles” that somehow securing the consent of their own voters by collecting Republican ballots ahead of time is bad. In the process, Republicans have essentially surrendered control of the country to an oligarchy in which the rulers are Democrats and those in the ruling class who belong to the minority party consent to permanent ruled status.
But what if the game changed? What if the Republicans actually became dissatisfied with their subservient position and played the game using all available legal means? Many “intellectual conservatives” would still object, claiming, “we cannot be like them!” But nothing good comes from losing if you do not learn from it and then apply what you have learned toward a future victory.
In all their objections, none have described just how not engaging in harvesting will lead to victory. Not. One. Nor have any ever explained in a rational way how a Republican candidate might win in the upper Rust Belt without applying all the legal methods at his or her disposal: early voting, voting by mail, absentee ballot chasing, and yes, harvesting where it is legal. All they want to do is declare how principled they are, that they’re better and no doubt they will still be patting themselves on the back as they board trains to reeducation camps.
Theory is useless if there is not some application that fulfills the telos behind it. Most importantly, it seems not to have occurred to those who object to the modern method of securing the vote that it actually can fulfill the aim of the Declaration of Independence: the consent of the governed. The Declaration states that “just powers [are derived] from the consent of the governed” The Declaration does not state (nor does the Constitution) just how that consent is to be secured, only that it must be secured.
So exactly how is the GOP going to secure that consent in future elections? What is it actually prepared to do?
To put it in the words of Thomas Jefferson: “All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”
There is nothing inherently wrong in how consent is secured as long as it is freely given. Votes of reasonable voters may be collected if someone will actually go and secure them—that is, convince them—that their vote for a Republican means they will be protected diligently against the assaults of the ruling class. MAGA Republicans, to take but one example, are high-information voters; they, and not the opposing party, actually believe in things like self-evident truths. Go to any Trump rally and you will be struck by how clued in they are to information the fake news does not report.
The notion that somehow the collection of these votes by modern means is somehow fraudulent does a disservice to these voters. It is insulting. With the current temperature of the regime, Republicans have no choice but to secure consent by all legal means. We might disagree with the current laws, but they are, in fact, the laws. Therefore, within that framework, Republicans have the higher duty (an obligation!) to protect their own voters from those who seek to oppress them.
In that regard, a wise student of politics once wrote, “the dissolution of the reciprocal obligations of citizen and government would dissolve both conditions which make the preserving of life possible, and which make life itself worth living. The self-interest of everyone should prevent that from happening. Recognizing that this is everyone’s self- interest is what was understood to be enlightenment.”
The participation in the modern opportunities of securing the votes not only protects Republican voters, but helps secure the longevity of the Union. As Lincoln noted, a people who see a government that does not offer them protection, will, eventually, believe they have “nothing to lose” and acquiesce to disunion.
The Democratic Party’s unofficial motto today is “extremism is no vice.” If Republicans do not act according to the motto that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” and protect their own voters, their tyrannical enslavement by those who show no love for liberty will be visited upon us all.