Pennsylvania Republicans have been in the news lately thanks to their disdain for the democratic process. A new development emerged last night that should send chills down anyone’s spine who still believes in the American project, because Pennsylvania Republicans sure don’t. However, credit to Carolyn Fiddler of Daily Kos for highlighting how Pennsylvania Republicans eschewing the constitution in favor of authoritarianism is closer to the norm than the exception in Republican politics. Here are eight undeniable examples proving that the Republican Party does not support our democratic processes.
The Republican Party drew a gerrymandered map that was subsequently thrown out by the state supreme court for being transparently illegal. The map enabled the GOP to win 13 of the state’s 18 districts, despite the Democrats winning a larger share of the vote in some recent years. The court gave the legislature until February 9th to draw new maps, and in response, Pennsylvania Senate President pro tempore Joseph Scarnati sent the supreme court a letter telling them he will ignore their ruling. Scarnati’s request not only conflicts with the landmark Marbury v. Madison Supreme Court ruling, but also a 2015 decision by the court overruling yet another instance of state Republicans assaulting the judiciary in the southwest corner of the United States.
In 2011, Republican Governor Jan Brewer sent a letter to the chair of Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission accusing them of “gross misconduct” when drawing districts. The Republican state Senate then voted down partisan lines to remove the chair of the IRC. Arizona had gained one seat in the 2010 Census, and the IRC drew a map with four heavily GOP districts, two heavily Democrat, and three competitive ones. The state Supreme Court upheld the districts and reinstated the head of the IRC.
Defying yet another court order, Arizona Republicans sued the IRC, claiming that the entity created via a citizen-initiated ballot measure was unconstitutional. The Republicans lost that case in the U.S. Supreme Court too, and this served as one established precedent to overrule Pennsylvania’s authoritarian power grab. But that’s not all, Republicans subsequently sued to have the map tossed as unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against them. If there’s one good thing about the GOP eschewing so many court rulings in favor of full-blown autocratic rule, it’s that they’re establishing a lot of legal precedent to lose future cases.
Governor Sam Brownback is the avatar for the hyper-corporatist conservative movement. He did everything within his power to completely shrink the Kansas state government on a “march to zero” income tax, as he called it. Brownback also said it was a “real-live experiment” in conservative governance. This resulted in a massive budget crisis in Kansas that still grips the state to this day. It is such a disaster that Republicans who voted for it warned Trump and national Republicans about repeating their same mistake with this latest round of tax cuts. Republican state Senator Jim Denning said “It was supposed to increase the GDP, and it didn’t. The feds will have that same problem. It generated hardly any measurable economic activity.”
Which leads us to a ruling by a trial court that found “beyond any question” that the state’s funding—or lack thereof—for public schools was unconstitutional. Kansas’ state supreme court upheld the ruling, and devoted two-thirds of its opinion to the delicate fact that it had a duty to overrule the governor and legislature, writing, “Determining whether an act of the legislature is invalid under the people’s constitution is solely the duty of the judiciary. The judiciary is not at liberty to surrender, ignore, or waive this duty.” Kansas Republicans then passed a law stripping the state Supreme Court of its administrative power over lower courts, and another law which took away its entire funding if any court struck down any part of the previous law.
In December of 2015, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the first law unconstitutional, however, thanks to the second law passed by Kansas Republicans, doing so put its funding in danger. Luckily, state Republicans passed a law reversing the second bill, but that was just a temporary reprieve from their constitutional crisis. A couple months later, they passed a bill authorizing the impeachment of justices if their decisions “usurp” the power of other branches. What “usurp” meant is up to the politicians controlling the other branches, which are overwhelmingly Republican.
The Electoral Integrity Project has measured 213 elections in 153 countries and is generally regarded as one of the foremost authorities on evaluating free and fair elections. In 2016, they looked at North Carolina, and found that it ranked next to Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone in its lack of free and fair elections. Per Andrew Reynolds, who sits on the EIP’s advisory board:
Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.
North Carolina’s offenses are so vast that they deserve their own column, but the story here is the same: state Republicans trampling the democratic process in order to consolidate power. Republican state Representative Chris Mills introduced a resolution to impeach Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall—the first woman ever elected to statewide executive office in North Carolina—because she commissioned 320 noncitizens as notaries over a nine-year period. Had he succeeded, it would have been the first time a statewide executive officeholder had been impeached since 1870.
The entire North Carolina House of Representatives actually considered that bill, and then Mills unexpectedly resigned without any explanation. However, this naked power grab pales in comparison to the extraordinary and draconian assault on democracy perpetrated by North Carolina Republicans after Democrat Roy Cooper was elected governor. The legislature approved a sweeping package of restrictions on the incoming governor’s power, and it was signed by the outgoing Republican governor Pat McCrory. The bill stripped future governors from being able to appoint a majority to the State Board of Elections, and changed the state court system so it became more difficult for losers of court cases to appeal to the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court.
The state Supreme Court found this law to be unconstitutional, only to have the Republican legislature pass the bill again, just to watch it lose one more time in court. This was not the only instance where a court found Republican actions unconstitutional in the state. Representative David Lewis said “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” Republicans won 53% of the statewide vote, but 10 of the 13 districts. A panel of federal judges struck down the map, with Judge James A. Wynn Jr. writing that it was racially gerrymandered, and “Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.”
Republican Governor Scott Walker is refusing to call special elections for open Senate seats, because he knows that Republicans will lose power if he does so. Democrat Patty Schachtner just won a special election by 11 points for a Wisconsin Senate seat in a district that Trump won by 17 points. Walker called this election a “wake up call” for Republicans, and now wants to keep all open Senate seats that way until 2019.
United States Congress
In just this past month alone, the House Intelligence Committee announced that they are launching an investigation into the law enforcement entities investigating the Republican President, claiming that Republican Robert Mueller (appointed by Republican President George W. Bush) and his investigative team are biased towards Democrats. Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes wrote a memo that slammed the FBI and Department of Justice for being biased against Republicans (before quietly walking it back). Republican Chairman of the Senate Homeland Committee Ron Johnson seized on a joke out of context between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and intimated that the FBI was being controlled by a “secret society” that is hostile to Republicans. A more comprehensive list of recent Republican constitutional offenses in Congress would require a book, not a column.
We are in the midst of a constitutional crisis at the very top of our federal government. Congress passed a new round of sanctions on Russia on a near-unanimous 517 to 5 vote last year, and Republican President Trump signed the bill into law. Now, the Trump Administration is saying that this law is not needed because present sanctions are acting as a deterrent. The constitution requires the executive to “faithfully enforce” our laws, and the Trump administration is not arguing in good faith as to why they will not enforce this law, as I wrote in my article about this crisis:
It says so right in the name of the law (emphasis mine): Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
Countering is not deterring. Countering is punishing. These sanctions are in response to the Russian attack on our elections, and the beneficiary of that attack says that they are not necessary. It is the job of the legislature to pass laws, and for the executive branch to enforce them. If the executive branch is not faithfully enforcing laws passed by Congress, that is the definition of a constitutional crisis. Given that Trump’s own CIA director disagrees with his State Department’s assessment that the existing sanctions are acting as a deterrent, it’s hard to say this argument is being made in good faith, as Mike Pompeo told the BBC that he hasn’t “seen a significant decrease in their activity.” He also expects them to mess with our upcoming midterm elections.
The Republican Base
If you’re wondering how the Republicans can get away with all these anti-democratic actions, it’s because they’re just carrying out the wishes of their base that’s trapped in their Fox News, Breitbart, InfoWars, talk radio, etc…echo chamber. The GOP has conditioned an entire generation of voters to be distrustful of the American system. Just over half of Republicans would support delaying the 2020 elections if Trump proposed it (this dynamic isn’t confined to the right, nearly two-thirds of Democrats supported canceling the 2016 election to give Obama a third term). Trump practically ran on a platform of unconstitutional actions, and 89% of Romney voters still voted for him. According to Pew, just 49% of Republicans say that news organizations being free to criticize political leaders is important to maintaining a strong democracy—meaning that functionally, only half of Republicans approve of the entire First Amendment (compared to 76% of Democrats).
Only 68% say that the right to nonviolent protest is an important part of maintaining a strong democracy (compared to 88% of Dems), and 66% think it’s vitally important to protect the rights of people with unpopular views (compared to 80% of Dems). In August 2016, 82% of Republicans said it would be too risky to give presidents more power to deal directly with the country’s problems, yet only 65% said so in February of 2017, right after Trump’s inauguration. Matthew MacWilliams—a political scientist at UMass Amherst—conducted a poll last summer and found that a predilection for authoritarianism was the best predictor of a vote for Trump. Again, most everyone who voted for Romney also voted for Trump. He is not some alien who took over the Republican Party. Trump is the mascot who represents everything they value. But don’t take it from me, take it from the Republican Senate Majority Leader.
Jim DeMint served as South Carolina’s representative in both the House and Senate from 1999 to 2013. He resigned in order to chair the conservative think tank, the Heritage foundation. He wrote in his 2012 book, Now or Never, that the 2012 election was more than a watershed moment in Republican politics. It was a fight for their very survival.
“Republican supporters will continue to decrease every year as more Americans become dependent on the government. Dependent voters will naturally elect even big-government progressives who will continue to smother economic growth and spend America deeper into debt. The 2012 election may be the last opportunity for Republicans.”
DeMint embodied mainstream Republican politics while also serving as the highest-ranking member of the populist Tea Party movement. His words echo the Republican ethos. They have positioned themselves as victims in a holy war and are simply taking it to its logical conclusion. When you believe that your very existence is threatened, you have very little need for democratic processes, let alone the desire to respect the rights of those you believe you’re battling for existential primacy over the American project.
The problem is that there is no war, and this is all one gigantic grift cooked up by the true masters of America: our financial oligarchs. The Republican Party exists solely to gin up racist votes in order to enact hyper-corporatist policies that would never win an election on their own merits. Our judicial system has repudiated anti-democratic Republican measures so many times that it’s hard to keep track, and this latest assault on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is further proof that the only thing standing in between the Republican Party and full authoritarian rule is the constitution that they claim to revere.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.