‘It’s going to be an army’: Tapes reveal GOP plan to contest elections

“Video recordings of Republican Party operatives meeting with grassroots activists provide an inside look at a multi-pronged strategy to target and potentially overturn votes in Democratic precincts: Install trained recruits as regular poll workers and put them in direct contact with party attorneys.

The plan, as outlined by a Republican National Committee staffer in Michigan, includes utilizing rules designed to provide political balance among poll workers to install party-trained volunteers prepared to challenge voters at Democratic-majority polling places, developing a website to connect those workers to local lawyers and establishing a network of party-friendly district attorneys who could intervene to block vote counts at certain precincts.”

“election watchdog groups and legal experts say many of these recruits are answering the RNC’s call because they falsely believe fraud was committed in the 2020 election, so installing them as the supposedly unbiased officials who oversee voting at the precinct level could create chaos in such heavily Democratic precincts.

“This is completely unprecedented in the history of American elections that a political party would be working at this granular level to put a network together,” said Nick Penniman, founder and CEO of Issue One, an election watchdog group. “It looks like now the Trump forces are going directly after the legal system itself and that should concern everyone.”

Penniman also expressed concern about the quick-strike networks of lawyers and DAs being created, suggesting that politically motivated poll workers could simply initiate a legal conflict at the polling place that disrupts voting and then use it as a vehicle for rejecting vote counts from that precinct.”

“On the tapes, some of the would-be poll workers lamented that fraud was committed in 2020 and that the election was “corrupt.” Installing party loyalists on the Board of Canvassers, which is responsible for certifying the election, also appears to be part of the GOP strategy. In Wayne County, which includes Detroit, Republicans nominated to their board a man who said he would not have certified the 2020 election.

Both Penniman and Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said they see a domino effect that could sow doubts about the election even when there was no original infraction: A politically motivated poll worker connecting with a zealous local lawyer to disrupt voting, followed by a challenge to the Board of Canvassers that may have nothing to do with the underlying dispute but merely the level of disruption at the polling place.

“You shouldn’t have poll workers who are reporting to political organizations what they see,” Hasen said. “It creates the potential for mucking things up at polling places and potentially leading to delays or disenfranchisement of voters,” especially “if [the poll workers] come in with the attitude that something is crooked with how elections are run.””

“Penniman, the election watchdog, believes the strategy is designed to create enough disputes to justify intervention by GOP-controlled state legislatures, who declined to take such steps in 2020.”

No, Florida Republicans Do Not Care About Crony Capitalism

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed legislation that strips Walt Disney World of its independent, special-district status after the company objected to the state’s new law regarding discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms. While the motive behind this action is problematic, some of its supporters argue that there is nothing to fret about, since it was time to revoke a cronyist privilege granted to Disney 50 years ago anyway. But if this is really a fight against cronyism, the legislation goes about it the wrong way.

Cronyism is the unhealthy alliance of business and government. It takes the form of government officials at the state, local, and federal levels granting special privileges to particular companies or industries. These privileges can include special tax breaks, government loans, direct subsidies, or—as in Florida—so-called “special districts.” I spend a great deal of my work hours researching the harm cronyism causes to citizens. That’s because, as my colleague Matthew Mitchell wrote a decade ago, “Whatever its guise, government-granted privilege [to private businesses] is an extraordinarily destructive force. It misdirects resources, impedes genuine economic progress, breeds corruption, and undermines the legitimacy of both the government and the private sector.”

So, is Disney benefiting from a handout that should be stripped away? Yes, Disney certainly has been getting an incredible privilege to act as its own government within the limits of Orange and Osceola counties. For instance, it runs its fire department, administers planning and zoning rules, writes building codes, employs its own inspectors, and is exempted from local regulations and some $200 million in taxes. It levies the remainder of the taxes it owes.

Removing special district status means these types of responsibilities would be absorbed by the two counties in which Walt Disney World sits. Local taxpayers would then shoulder the cost for all municipal services on the property—a cost estimated to be $1 billion. The company, in turn, would be subjected to the same subpar local government services and regulations that most of us are accustomed to. In addition, Florida will be tied up in years of costly litigation to figure out how to disentangle the company from the counties.

But maybe untangling this special treatment is worth the cost. Just don’t expect it to result in a fairer regime. Indeed, if this setup is so unacceptable—a claim most Republicans didn’t seem to make for the half-century the special district has been in place—it should also be unacceptable for the other 1,844 Florida special districts. Of these, 1,288 are, like Disney, independent districts. But we aren’t hearing significant Republican complaints about these.

In other words, GOPers want to continue the practice of extending privileges selectively. What legislators should have done is decide whether any such special districts are a good idea. If so, access to them should be made available to any company that meets certain minimum and clear criteria and denied to any company that does not.”

“This episode should serve as a warning for companies angling to score special privileges from government. Governments give arbitrarily and unfairly, and they take back with equal arbitrariness and unfairness. In addition, when a company’s profitability depends heavily on government largesse, it must make sure not to anger its government overlords. Disney obviously failed to do that.

This sad affair has done nothing to change cronyism in the state of Florida, but it has once again exposed the arbitrariness of government in our lives and the cost of depending on its favors.”

Why Do GOP Lawmakers Still Oppose Legalizing Weed?

“a majority of registered voters in all 50 states now favor making cannabis legal, according to state-level polling data from Civiqs. Support ranges from a low of 52 percent in North Dakota to a high of 81 percent in Vermont and Washington.”

“the U.S. House passed legislation that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.
Not everyone is on board with those policy changes, though. Over 200 House Republicans voted against the legislation, while only three voted for it. (By comparison, over 200 House Democrats voted for the legislation, while only two voted against it.) That partisan opposition means the bill will almost certainly die in the U.S. Senate.”

Criminal justice reform faces political buzzsaw as GOP hones its midterm message

“The Senate delivered former President Donald Trump a bipartisan criminal justice reform deal shortly after the last midterm election. Staging a sequel for President Joe Biden this year won’t be so easy.
Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, are still in talks over finalizing a package that would serve as a more narrow follow-up to the 2018 prison and sentencing reform bill known as the First Step Act. But both senior senators acknowledge it’s not a glide path forward, particularly given the GOP messaging on rising crime ahead of the 2022 midterms — a focus that was on full display during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court hearings last month.”

“While both Durbin and Grassley say the sequel legislation is necessary to fully implement and expand on the sentencing updates in the First Step law, the campaign-season politics surrounding criminal justice reform threaten broader GOP support. Though 38 Republican senators backed the 2018 bill, it took Trump’s personal appeals to get many on board. And with Democrats in full control of Washington, Republicans’ emerging midterm message — that liberals are to blame for rising violent crime — could make sentencing changes that much harder.”

The time to panic about anti-trans legislation is now

“In recent weeks, as Republican politicians in several states have introduced increasingly draconian measures designed to crack down on the lives and well-being of trans teenagers”

“A bill in Idaho, currently being considered by the state Senate after being passed out of the House, perhaps goes furthest in this regard. That bill would make providing medical care to trans youths a felony, punishable with up to life in prison. It would also effectively trap families of trans children in Idaho by forbidding them to travel elsewhere for treatment.”

” exas Gov. Greg Abbott directed that state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to open child abuse investigations into parents who pursue gender-affirming health care for their trans children. A judge issued an injunction against the directive being carried out, but a tweet from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton suggested that the state will ignore the injunction and continue investigations into families of trans children.”

“There is a reason every major American medical body recommends giving trans children the chance to transition. (Here’s an article from the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics making this argument 11 years ago.) Children first transition socially — with changes to their clothing, haircut, and name. Then, with a physician’s guidance, they can block the onset of puberty in early adolescence, and finally start hormone treatment in later adolescence.
This method works. We have records of trans children receiving hormone treatment as long ago as the 1930s. With this approach, trans kids can largely live lives that are indistinguishable from those of cis kids.”

“It’s worth repeating some other basic facts: Affirming trans children’s genders reduces their risk of attempting suicide; the use of puberty blockers in trans kids is safe; children are having bottom surgery only in exceptionally rare cases; and almost every element of trans health care we have was originally developed for cisgender people. (Cis children with precocious puberty have been using blockers for decades!)”

Covid deal hampered by GOP opposition to Biden immigration policy

“Conflict over President Joe Biden’s immigration policy is complicating passage of a $10 billion coronavirus bill before a two-week congressional recess.

Just a day after Republican Sen. Mitt Romney and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a deal on billions for therapeutics, vaccines and testing, GOP senators threw in a wrench that could mean Congress will break with nothing. Senate Republicans say they want a vote on an amendment that would keep in place the Title 42 border restrictions, which allows limits on immigration due to the pandemic. Without one, they say the bill can’t proceed.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday that “there’s going to have to be an amendment on Title 42 in order to move the bill.” Without agreement among all 100 senators, the Senate will be unable to take up and quickly move the bill this week.”

“The impasse could stall for weeks what Biden called much-needed coronavirus aid, unless senators can reach a deal before they plan to leave on Thursday or Friday. Without a breakthrough, the aid won’t be approved until late April or perhaps May. Republicans blocked a vote advance the bill on Tuesday, though Schumer can quickly bring it back up if there’s a deal on amendments.”

“Democrats already think they’ve conceded plenty to the Republicans after Monday’s bipartisan agreement left out global vaccine funding. So there’s not a ton of enthusiasm for giving Republicans their immigration vote.”

Republicans descend into foreign policy factionalism over Russia-Ukraine standoff

“a vocal GOP minority on and off Capitol Hill — represented by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, among others — has taken a third path, actively arguing against any U.S. involvement in the region while still dinging Biden. They argue that expanding the U.S. commitment to NATO is a mistake, and that the president should instead focus on countering China and securing America’s southern border.

That discordant chorus is making it harder for Republicans to craft a unified message on Russia the way it did during last year’s chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan or during Putin’s invasion of Crimea when Barack Obama was president in 2014.”

“Several establishment Republicans involved in those talks lauded the Biden administration for its sanctions rollout while calling for more. But, in a further sign of internal GOP divisions, other conservatives hit the president on Tuesday for not going far enough to slap back at Putin before an invasion began.”

Republicans Are Moving Rapidly to Cement Minority Rule. Blame the Constitution.

“Equal representation of the citizenry hasn’t become the enemy of the contemporary Republican Party. It has been the enemy for more than a half-century. Ronald Reagan opposed the 1965 Voting Rights Act from the beginning, explaining later that he believed it was “humiliating to the South.” When the act came up for its third renewal in 1982, Reagan’s lawyers in the Justice Department, led by a twenty-something John Roberts, mightily resisted it and much needed amendments to it. When it came up for renewal again, in 2006, the act nearly broke the House Republican caucus in two.

At the center of Republican opposition to the Voting Rights Act is Section 5, described by the historian J. Morgan Kousser as “one of the most innovative governmental mechanisms since the New Deal.” Section 5 stipulates that states, counties and localities with a history of discriminatory voting rules and practices must get permission or “pre-clearance” from the federal government to make any changes to an electoral “standard, practice, or procedure.” With the burden of proof falling on these jurisdictions, it is up to them to demonstrate that the intent or effect of their change is not racial discrimination.

Well-versed in the ingenuity and initiative of white supremacy, the authors of Section 5 understood that equal representation for all citizens required the nationalization of voting standards and preemptive action by the federal government to protect those standards. If local white officials were not stopped, in advance, from “stacking” or “cracking” the Black vote — concentrating Black voters in one district and reducing their power elsewhere or diluting their power by spreading their votes across districts — African Americans would not be guaranteed equal representation in the polity.”

“In 2013, with Roberts now at the helm of the Supreme Court, the Republicans finally achieved their goal, effectively killing Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder. Though the Cornell political scientist Suzanne Metler tells Edsall that the GOP is “a longstanding party that helped to protect democracy until recently,” the wave of Republican racial gerrymanders and voting rights restrictions that we are seeing today was set in motion by leading members of the party more than fifty years ago.”

“Americans associate the Constitution with popular liberties such as due process and freedom of speech. They overlook its architecture of state power, which erects formidable barriers to equal representation and majority rule in all three branches of government. The Republicans are not struggling to overturn a long and storied history of democratic rules and norms. They’re walking through an open door.

The 20th century lulled many Americans into thinking that the Electoral College was a vestigial organ like the appendix. Citizens of the 21st century know better. Having witnessed two presidential elections in which the candidate with the most votes lost, they know that rule by the majority or plurality is not a necessary feature of the presidency. Nor is equal representation: In the Electoral College, the vote of a citizen in Wyoming is worth three to four times as much as that of a citizen in California.”

“Though the Framers rejected the idea of a hereditary body like the House of Lords, they did accept a compromise in which the Senate would represent states rather than individuals. Contrary to popular lore, Madison thought the central concern of those states had less to do with the size of their populations than with the source of their labor, whether it was enslaved or free.”

“While some longstanding, wealthy democracies do have upper chambers, the United States is one of the very few to grant its upper chamber equal power to its lower chamber. The extreme inequality of representation in the Senate, in which the vote of one citizen in Wyoming is equal to that of 67 citizens in California, is even more unique. The combined effect of these twin features of Congress, wrote the distinguished Yale political scientist Robert Dahl, is “to preserve and protect unequal representation” and “to construct a barrier to majority rule.””

“American racial politics, past and present, demonstrates the power of this observation. Between 1800 and 1860, the will of the voting majority was repeatedly expressed in the House, which passed eight anti-slavery bills. The will of the slaveholding minority was repeatedly enacted in the Senate, which stopped those measures. In the first half of the 20th century, the majoritarian House passed multiple civil rights measures — from anti-lynching bills to abolition of the poll tax. Each time, those bills were killed in the Senate.”

How does this end?

“Large majorities of Republicans continue to believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and elected Republicans around the country are acting on this conspiracy theory — attempting to lock Democrats out of power by seizing partisan control of America’s electoral systems. Democrats observe all this and gird for battle, with many wondering if the 2024 elections will be held on the level.

These divisions over the fairness of our elections are rooted in an extreme level of political polarization that has divided our society into mutually distrustful “us versus them” camps.”

“In a draft paper, McCoy and co-author Ben Press examine every democracy since 1950 to identify instances where this mindset had taken root. One of their most eye-popping findings: None of America’s peer democracies have experienced levels of pernicious polarization as high for as long as the contemporary United States.

“Democracies have a hard time depolarizing once they’ve reached this level,” McCoy tells me. “I am extremely worried.”

But worried about what, exactly? This is the biggest question in American politics: Where does our deeply fractured country go from here?

A deep dive into the academic research on democracy, polarization, and civil conflict is sobering. Virtually all of the experts I spoke with agreed that, in the near term, we are in for a period of heightened struggle. Among the dire forecasts: hotly contested elections whose legitimacy is doubted by the losing side, massive street demonstrations, a paralyzed Congress, and even lethal violence among partisans.”

“In his book Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop, political scientist Lee Drutman argues that America’s polarization problem is in large part a product of our two-party electoral system. Unlike elections in multiparty democracies, where leading parties often govern in coalition with others, two-party contests are all-or-nothing: Either your party wins outright or it loses. As a result, every vote takes on apocalyptic stakes.

A new draft paper by scholars Noam Gidron, James Adams, and Will Horne uncovers strong evidence for this idea. In a study of 19 Western democracies between 1996 and 2017, they find that ordinary partisans tend to express warmer feelings toward the party’s coalition partners — both during the coalition and for up to two decades following its end.

“In the US, there’s simply no such mechanism,” Gidron told me. “Even if you have divided government, it’s not perceived as an opportunity to work together but rather to sabotage the other party’s agenda.”

Drutman argues for a combination of two reforms that could move us toward a more cooperative multiparty system: ranked-choice voting and multimember congressional districts in the House of Representatives.

In ranked-choice elections, voters rank candidates by order of preference rather than selecting just one of them, giving third-party candidates a better chance in congressional elections. In a House with multimember districts, we would have larger districts where multiple candidates could win seats to reflect a wider breadth of voter preferences — a more proportional system of representation than the winner-take-all-status quo.

But it’s very hard to see how these reforms could happen anytime soon. Extreme polarization creates a kind of legislative Catch-22: Zero-sum politics means we can’t get bipartisan majorities to change our institutions, while the current institutions intensify zero-sum competition between the parties.”