Republicans versus democracy

I thought about making a post on that topic earlier this week.  Good thing I waited, as political scientists and democracy experts, Steven Levitsky and 

While technically constitutional, the act — in effect, stealing a Court seat — hadn’t been tried since the 19th century. It would be bad enough on its own, but the Merrick Garland affair is part of a broader pattern.

Republicans across the country seem to have embraced an “any means necessary” strategy to preserve their power. After losing the governorship in North Carolina in 2016 and Wisconsin in 2018, Republicans used lame duck legislative sessions to push through a flurry of bills stripping power from incoming Democratic governors. Last year, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a Republican gerrymandering initiative, conservative legislators attempted to impeach the justices. And back in North Carolina, Republican legislators used a surprise vote last week to ram through an override of Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget — while most Democrats were told no vote would be held and so attended a 9/11 commemoration. This is classic “constitutional hardball,” behavior that, while technically legal, uses the letter of the law to subvert its spirit.

Constitutional hardball has accelerated under the Trump administration…

Constitutional hardball can damage and even destroy a democracy. Democratic institutions only function when power is exercised with restraint. When parties abandon the spirit of the law and seek to win “by any means necessary,” politics often descends into institutional warfare. Governments in Hungary and Turkey have used court packing and other “legal” maneuvers to lock in power and ensure that subsequent abuse is ruled “constitutional.” And when one party engages in constitutional hardball, its rivals often feel compelled to respond in a tit-for-tat fashion, triggering an escalating conflict that is difficult to undo. As the collapse of democracy in Germany and Spain in the 1930s and Chile in the 1970s makes clear, these escalating conflicts can end in tragedy…

Why is the Republican Party playing dirty? Republican leaders are not driven by an intrinsic or ideological contempt for democracy. They are driven by fear.

Democracy requires that parties know how to lose. Politicians who fail to win elections must be willing to accept defeat, go home, and get ready to play again the next day. This norm of gracious losing is essential to a healthy democracy.

But for parties to accept losing, two conditions must hold. First, they must feel secure that losing today will not bring ruinous consequences; and second, they must believe they have a reasonable chance of winning again in the future. When party leaders fear they cannot win future elections, or that defeat poses an existential threat to themselves or their constituents, the stakes rise. Their time horizons shorten. They throw tomorrow to the wind and seek to win at any cost today. In short, desperation leads politicians to play dirty…

[lots of useful history]

Republicans appear to be in the grip of a similar panic today. Their medium-term electoral prospects are dim. For one, they remain an overwhelmingly white Christian party in an increasingly diverse society. As a share of the American electorate, white Christians declined from 73 percent in 1992 to 57 percent in 2012 and may be below 50 percent by 2024. Republicans also face a generational challenge: Younger voters are deserting them. In 2018, 18- to 29-year olds voted for Democrats by a more than 2 to 1 margin, and 30-somethings voted nearly 60 percent for Democrats...

So like the old Southern Democrats, modern-day Republicans have responded to darkening electoral horizons and rank-and-file perceptions of existential threat with a win-at-any-cost mentality. Most reminiscent of the Jim Crow South are Republican efforts to tilt the electoral playing field…

The only way out of this situation is for the Republican Party to become more diverse. A stunning 90 percent of House Republicans are white men, even though white men are a third of the electorate. Only when Republicans can compete seriously for younger, urban and nonwhite voters will their fear of losing — and of a multiracial America — subside.

Such a transformation is less far-fetched than it may appear right now; indeed, the Republican National Committee recommended it in 2013. But parties only change when their strategies bring costly defeat. So Republicans must fail — badly — at the polls…

Liberal democracy has historically required at least two competing parties committed to playing the democratic game, including one that typically represents conservative interests. But the commitment of America’s conservative party to this system is wavering, threatening our political system as a whole. Until Republicans learn to compete fairly in a diverse society, our democratic institutions will be imperiled.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Republicans versus democracy

  1. itchy says:

    “Only when Republicans can compete seriously for younger, urban and nonwhite voters will their fear of losing — and of a multiracial America — subside.”

    Again, this treads closely to the “Republicans need to fix their message” idea.

    No.

    Republicans need to change who they are. Because “who they are” is defined by being antagonistic toward these groups. These groups are not them precisely because Republicans have organized around *not* being these groups.

    “Such a transformation is less far-fetched than it may appear right now; indeed, the Republican National Committee recommended it in 2013.”

    Bull. Making a recommendation and executing a transformation are not remotely the same things.

    The RNC recommended they try to compete for those voters in the same way one would recommend losing weight but not cutting the hot fudge sundaes from your diet. If you say it but don’t change your behavior, you were never serious about it.

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