This is the week the GOP primary stopped being funny at all — and not just because Ben Carson wasn’t there to break the tedium of Thursday’s night debate in Detroit with a quick fruit salad recipe.
It started with Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, making his most brazen, loving wink at white supremacists yet. He backtracked slightly, lying as always in a way that casually mocks his supporters’ intelligence, then insisted he would compel the military to commit war crimes. He backtracked again, then just insisted he’d broaden the use of torture, which is a war crime.
And if all of that wasn’t scary enough, Donald Trump had his supporters perform a familiar-looking salute to pledge their loyalty in the upcoming Florida primary.
If you’re a Democrat — or if you weren’t in a coma from 2001 to 2008 — you know how badly this ends. And if you’re a student of history, you’re well aware that things could always get worse.
Trump’s record unpopularity, the overwhelming evidence that there aren’t enough white men in America to elect him, and the recent rise of Ted Cruz (whose plans to raise taxes on the poor and seniors in order to cut them on the richest should make him an appealing match for Democrats) shouldn’t bring any solace.
You’re going to worry, and you should. Here are five reasons.
- Voter suppression works.
This is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, and the results have already been terrifying — and almost completely ignored by the media. “Eight out of the 16 states that have held primaries or caucuses so far have implemented new voter ID or other restrictive voting laws since 2010,” The Huffington Post reports. “Democratic turnout has dropped 37 percent overall in those eight states, but just 13 percent in the states that didn’t enact new voter restrictions. To put it another way, Democratic voter turnout was 285 percent worse in states with new voter ID laws.” And voter ID laws are just the beginning. Kansas has disenfranchised 37,000 residents, including a 13-year Air Force veteran, by adding completely unnecessary requirements to vote. America has no history of fraud changing election results (setting aside events 16 years ago), but is does have a centuries-long history of denying people the right to vote. And it’s happening again in the states with the worst record of voter suppression. Democrats need a massive registration and get-out-the-vote effort to counter this kind of willful assault on democracy — and it should have started a decade ago.
- Republicans have a true 50-state strategy.
Most of the states where new voting restrictions keep minorities, the young, and the poor from the vote are already Republican-led. But a few — including Scott Walker’s Wisconsin — are true swing states that may even decide the election. Even if Democrats win in by a landslide in 2016, thanks to a historic meltdown traditional conservatism, the GOP still holds more power in the states than at any time since before the Great Depression, and their effective use of that power will make it nearly impossible for Democrats to win back the House until 2022. The right has invested in all-out war for political domination, and it’s currently being waged in every state legislature in this nation. And once they gain power, they do everything they can to gut unions, decimate public education and destroy the tax base so that workers become ever more disengaged from democracy. While Democrats have proven apt at countering Republicans’ media messaging, the battles over the true levers of power in this country have largely been surrendered to the right.
- We’re due for a disaster.
It may not feel like it but we’re in the middle of the longest private sector job expansion in American history. One theory of elections suggestions suggests voters will largely decide on their choice for November based on economic growth now and through the summer. While the jobs numbers continue to be promising, economic growth is tepid and threatened by a full-on economic crisis in China and a banking contraction in Europe. The resilience of the American economy over the last six years has been remarkable but not enough to repair the damage of the Great Recession or reverse decades of conservative economics that led up to that battering. Likewise, America has avoided a large scale domestic terror attack since 9/11. As ISIS suffers loses in Iraq and Syria, it is only becoming more brutal, daring and desperate. While there’s evidence that Hillary Clinton is seen as stronger on defense than any of the Republican candidates, we cannot predict what kind of turmoil a devastating attack would spark in the mind of a demagogue willing to hawk any trauma beyond recognition.
- There will be an unprecedented avalanche of attacks on Hillary Clinton.
Anything can happen, but Hillary Clinton’s delegate advantage over Bernie Sanders — even before factoring in super delegates — is larger than any lead Barack Obama held over her in 2008. If she’s the nominee, the campaign against her will be blood bath the likes of which we’ve never seen, featuring vicious, relentless attacks on her voice, physical appearance, and husband that male politicians have avoided for centuries, by virtue of being men. With a record in national politics older than many voters, Clinton has crazed detractors on the right and genuine critics of her vast and complicated record on the left. We know Trump would raise the vilest attacks… ever, but what happens if Clinton’s critics on the left echo them?
- The stakes have never been higher.
The makeup of the Supreme Court is already at stake and Republicans are already engaging in ahistorical obstruction to deny President Obama his right to have appointments considered. Democracy depends on accepting certain norms, and Republicans have shown an increasing willingness to abandon them in a brazen pursuit of power. And they’ve trained their base to expect all forms of obstruction, threatening revenge against Republicans who actually abide by the processes outlined in the Constitution. We live on the cusp of a “majority minority” America, and the place of white nationalism within Trump’s rhetoric and base of support should be seen as ample warning of battles to come. Anger of this sort has been stoked for decades — and sooner or later, it was bound to erupt. The question now is whether or not it will consume itself, or take the nation down with it.
Photo: Hillary Clinton speaks at the Michigan Democratic Party meeting in Detroit, Michigan March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria