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The Republican Party made a bet that racism could sustain them—we’ll know tomorrow if they’re right

The Republican Party made a bet that racism could sustain them—we’ll know tomorrow if they’re right

The Republican Party made a bet that racism could sustain them—we’ll know tomorrow if they’re right

The Republican Party made a bet that racism could sustain them—we’ll know tomorrow if they’re right

The Republican Party made a bet that racism could sustain them—we'll know tomorrow if they're right

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After Republican candidate Mitt Romney's loss, in 2012, the news was full of Republican Party soul-searching. A vaunted party post-mortem pointed to the need to become more inclusive; as the nation's demographics shifts from majority-white to not that, party strategists warned, the party could no longer afford to be seen as the party of white bigotries. It was an existential question; an all-white party, the pundit class warned, simply could not win future elections.

But that isn't what happened, of course. Instead, the shuddering base revolted against the very notion, and the actual office holders, as opposed to the mewing strategists, sided with that base. Rather than attempting to sideline party racists and become a more inclusive party based on promoting conservative ideas or ideals, whatever those might have been, individual lawmakers and campaigns leaned into the alternate, but better tested strategy of turning out base voters in such numbers that the party's overall demographic disadvantages could be overcome.

Rather than becoming more inclusive, in other words, the party doubled down on its strategy of turning out its hardline, racist base at the expense of wooing all other voters—while simultaneously working at the state and local level to strip as many non-Republican voters from their voting rights as could be accomplished. Rather than bending the party to gain more voters, Republicans decided to put a vise to the electorate so that fewer people would be voting against them.

From North Carolina's egregious attempts to Georgia's one-man electoral saboteur Brian Kemp, the new approach was the Kris Kobach approach. Make it so cumbersome to vote that only the die-hards would try; Instead of courting newer generations of Americans, tweak the voting rules to prevent their own base of older, whiter, and more racist voters from being outvoted by the younger, less white, less racist nonconservatives threatening in.

That was the calculation. The question is not whether or not it will work—it indisputably has, in past elections—but whether it will still work even after nationwide disgust with Trump has nationalized state and local races. We don't know. It is a question that can be answered only by turnout. If turnout is very, very high, every Republican obstruction to voting can be overwhelmed. If the overt racism of the election is still not enough to motivate infrequent voters to the polls, however, it will have worked; the Republican calculation that they can attract more voters with white nationalism than they will lose will be true.

The bigger question still is what happens after that. The Republican strategy continues to be to rebuff the changing demographics and social concerns of the country by (1) hyper-partisaning the current electorate, boosting turnout by warning of greater and greater existential dangers posed by the opposition (Democrats, liberals, refugees, black Americans, the womenfolk, and take your pick), while whittling away opposition votes via a series of new poll taxes (fewer polling places, longer lines, more onerous paperwork, and unsubtle intimidation tactics). This has allowed the party to retain power despite majority opposition to their policies.

But it's not sustainable. It can buy a few percentage points each election. Perhaps five, perhaps ten, but it cannot buy fifteen or twenty without substantial alterations to our democracy itself. Eventually, non-white voters will make up a clear majority of the electorate; eventually, non-racist Americans will handily outnumber the racists. At that point either the Republican policy collapses or, perhaps just as likely, the methods of discouraging or criminalizing voting will become far more forceful.

That's the tricky part. The election tomorrow is not merely a referendum on how much white nationalism is too much, in a diversifying nation. It will directly impact whether new laws are constructed, in the next several years, codifying white nationalism as legal framework for governing, for policy-making, and for restructuring voting itself. It isn't just Steve King's dances with European neo-Nazi groups at stake, but whether the sort of flagrant sabotaging of the vote that Brian Kemp is scurrying through in Georgia will become a nationwide model for every Republican-supervised election.

Is racism against refugees acceptable, or not? Is open corruption allowed, if your votes allow the party to remain in power, or is it not? Are federal laws against foreign entities assisting in the election of our national figures’ true laws, or will they be discarded? Will the same people who were allowed to vote two years ago still be allowed to vote two years from now, or will a great many of them be crossed off the list? The Republican Party has turned the election into a mandate on all these things, and countless others.

But no, I don't think there's any reasonable possibility the party will disassociate itself from its current furious racism if they are shunned in tomorrow's elections. It will not. The election is the wider public's chance to condemn it and to punish it, but most importantly, to block it from taking effect as the new policy of the nation. We cannot make it go away, but it is vitally important we render it toothless.


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