An insidious trend has emerged over the last several election cycles, whereby the Republican Party, faced with looming demographic Armageddon, has found ever more creative ways to kneecap the opposing team. In shorthand: The game is that if you can’t convince people to vote for you, then reduce the number of people who are eligible to vote against you.
Gov. Rick Scott has waded into that territory with his gambit to rid the state’s voter rolls of phantom, foreign voters. This, despite the lack of any evidence that noncitizens have been storming the voting booths. (Foreign money, meanwhile, still has a pathway into our elections, thanks to Citizens United and the potential for multinationals to purchase the candidates of their liking.)
Scott’s purge is of a piece with other GOP drives to make it harder for the kinds of people who tend to support Democrats: union members, young voters, people with Hispanic (or for that matter, Haitian) surnames, to cast a ballot. And whether it’s voter ID laws, snuffing out “souls to the polls” on Sunday; firing U.S. attorneys who wouldn’t go along with trumped-up voter fraud probes, as happened during the George W. Bush years; or harassing would-be balloters by comparing their names to lists of felons (thanks, Jeb!) or lists of supposed foreigners, the goal is the same. It’s about combating the coming doom that awaits a political party increasingly dependent on a diminishing commodity: older, white voters. They, along with corporate bosses and highly religious white working-class men and their wives, form the three-legged stool upholding the GOP.
The idea of reducing the number of players on the opposing team isn’t without risk: Scott’s purge could potentially sweep up older voters without driver’s licenses or other documentation, or Cuban-Americans, who tend to lean GOP. It’s also not a flight of unfounded madness. Barack Obama lost white voters by some 11 million ballots, according to exit poll estimates, but won the White House anyway, by thumping John McCain among nonwhite voters by 24 million. Had McCain faced an electorate composed the way it was in 1982, or even 1992, he’d be president today, and there would be no tea party.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is headed into an election in which he is even more unpopular with Hispanic voters than was McCain, who has turned against his own immigration reform proposals to remake himself in the image of the right wing he once despised. And Romney’s courting of birthers like Donald Trump, combined with the reelection campaign of the nation’s first black president, means he’ll be lucky to get any African-American votes outside of Herman Cain and newly minted Republican former congressman Artur Davis.
Smart Republicans understand that since their voters are failing to keep pace with the emerging majority of younger, more socially tolerant and more racially and ethnically diverse Americans, they will find it harder and harder to win national elections. Older, whiter voters tend to vote more consistently, lining up for midterm elections when the opposition tends to fade away.
But for presidential years, demographics is destiny for the GOP, and not in a good way. A boomlet of Hispanic voters, currently ineligible to vote due to their age, is coming online over the next 12 years, which could make Democratic presidential landslides the norm by 2020, if Republicans don’t increase their minority vote share.
Bush strategists recognized the ticking time bomb during his presidency, and sought to get their party on board with comprehensive immigration reform, only to face a backlash from the Archie Bunker wing. These days, no Republican dares speak of immigration reform, unless it involves a moat filled with alligators, and the sole GOP strategy for attracting more Latino voters appears to be dangling Sen. Marco Rubio in front of an adoring press corps.
Younger voters are pro gay marriage, which the elders of the religious right fulminate against. Women are discovering a conservative movement their grandmothers thought was buried in the 1970s, complete with abortion and birth-control banning Puritans and Rush Limbaugh calling women “babes” and “sluts,” while Romney grimaces uncomfortably, but doesn’t do much more.
With all of that as a backdrop, kicking potential Democratic voters off the rolls might be Republicans’ best hope.