On the Trail: GOP divided over growing anti-democratic drift in party

President Trump’s unprecedented efforts to undermine the clear and conclusive results of the presidential election have provoked a startling reaction in his followers — from the angry mob that attacked the Capitol to senior state legislators across the nation.

Days after Trump left office, state Republicans introduced a series of measures that would give legislators the power to overturn the will of voters, both in the 2020 presidential contest and in future elections.

Some of the bills target the 2020 presidential election.

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Cris Dush (R) introduced a resolution declaring his state’s presidential election unlawful and void and the results invalid. Dush’s legislation would have revoked the certification of presidential electors pledged to President Biden and replaced them with a slate elected by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Others would give legislatures the ability to decertify the results of futures presidential elections in their states.

In Arizona, state Rep. Shawnna Bolick (R) introduced a bill last week that would allow the state legislature to decertify the results of a presidential election if they disagree with the certification issued by the secretary of state.

Other efforts aren’t connected to presidential elections but would changes or undermine measures approved by a majority of voters.

In November, 61 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that would raise the minimum wage from $8.56 an hour to $15 an hour by 2026. This week, state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R) introduced legislation to modify that amendment, allowing employers to pay sub-minimum wages to workers who are under 21, workers previously convicted of a felony and workers in undefined “other hard-to-hire” categories.

In the same election, 54 percent of South Dakota voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has ordered the South Dakota Highway Patrol to sue to overturn the amendment after Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) refused to intervene.

None of these measures are being offered by back-benchers.

Bolick chairs the Arizona House Ways and Means Committee. Dush leads the Pennsylvania committee overseeing local government. Brandes chairs the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee. Noem is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024.

The new efforts are part of a trend that may be accelerating amid a wave of disinformation about the 2020 presidential election.

In recent years, Florida’s legislature undermined Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment that was supposed to reinstate the voting rights of felons who had served their sentences. The amendment had been approved by voters, with 64 percent backing it.

Missouri legislators who opposed an independent redistricting commission approved by voters with 62 percent of the vote in 2018 put another version — which restored the heavily Republican legislature’s control over the process — on the ballot in 2020. That repeal passed with 51 percent of the vote. 

Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) refused to implement Medicaid expansion even after 59 percent of his constituents approved a 2017 ballot measure accepting expansion under the Affordable Care Act. 

The efforts embraced by a growing faction of leading Republicans is worrying to those who once led the Grand Old Party but who now find themselves adrift and marginalized.

“There’s always been a dark side to the conservative movement, to the Republican Party. You always had the Know Nothings, the America Firsters, the John Birch Society, the Pat Buchanan types. But they weren’t in charge. The people in charge were Bush and Dole and McCain,” said Chris Vance, a former chairman of the Washington State Republican Party and a senior fellow at the center-right Niskanen Center. “The extremists would be over in the corner of the room, but they weren’t in charge. Now they’re in charge.”

The rebuke of democratic values stems from a deeper and darker view of the clash that defines modern American politics, one stoked from the pulpit and the podium among the conservative evangelicals and increasingly far-right politicians who lead the GOP’s descent into populist nativism. To hear them tell it, Democrats and more traditional Republicans are not just the opposition; they are an existential threat to the future of the American experiment.

Trump served, and serves, as a voice that validates the darkest corners of conspiracy-minded Republicanism. He has cast Democrats — particularly women and most particularly Black women — as “dogs,” “crazy,” “sick” and “savages,” among a litany of other invectives. In 2017, his son Eric said, “To me, they’re not even people” in an interview with Fox News.

“Many of today’s Republicans see Democrats the way their McCarthyite grandparents saw communists,” said John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College and a former senior staffer at the Republican National Committee. “For them, Democrats are not legitimate opponents that they want to defeat; they’re mortal enemies that they have to destroy.”

Even those who initially won office as movement conservatives in the pre-Trump era have been swept along. In conversations over the past weeks with legislative leaders, all of whom demanded their names be withheld when asked about the darker fringes of their base, one state House Speaker and one elections committee chair both expressed a hopeless sense of exasperation with their own inability to control those who dismiss reality and threaten democracy.

Both of those legislators have publicly acknowledged Biden won their states. But both have also claimed that their separate efforts to revisit election integrity stem from their constituents’ concerns — concerns that their own side have embraced and inflamed.

“They are willing to do anything to hold on to power. I mean literally anything. I expect them to keep doing this stuff. I expect them to introduce bills all over the country to roll back mail-in voting. I expect them to attack the electoral college,” Vance said. “The only thing keeping them in the game is our very weird system which allows the minority to govern.”

Tags Capitol breach Donald Trump Florida Kristi Noem Pennsylvania
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