OPED: The GOP’s frightening election strategy

David A. Love
Tribune News Service
This combination of May 20, 2018, file photos shows Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams, left, and Brian Kemp in Atlanta. The final stretch of the hotly contested Georgia governor's race is being consumed by a bitter political battle over access to the polls. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, says that Democrat Stacey Abrams is fighting for immigrants without legal status to cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election. Abrams' campaign says that's untrue and Kemp is trying to deflect from his own record of making it harder for legal citizens to vote. (AP Photos/John Amis, File)

In the late 1960s, the Republican Party embraced what it called the Southern Strategy, an appeal to disaffected white Democratic voters who were resentful of desegregation and felt threatened by the gains of the civil rights movement.

As GOP political strategist Lee Atwater explained in 1981:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N––, n––, n––.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n––” – that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

Now, all that has changed. As the 2018 midterm election approaches, the party is no longer making efforts to disguise its appeals to racism.

At a recent rally in Ohio, President Donald Trump praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee as a “great general,” at a time when Confederate statues are being removed due to the troubling racial legacy they glorify.

Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis said voters should not “monkey this up” by electing his African American Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. DeSantis wrote a book excusing slavery, claiming it was unfair to blame the Founding Fathers for it.

A campaign ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee depicts Antonio Delgado — a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard-trained lawyer running against Rep. John Faso in New York’s 19th Congressional District — as a “rapper” who is unfit to serve white constituents.

Meanwhile, GOP officials including Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp are borrowing from the old Jim Crow playbook to keep black people from voting. Kemp, who is running for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, is overseeing his own election. His office is currently being sued over the suspension of registrations of 53,000 Georgia voters, nearly 70 percent of them African American, over often trivial discrepancies in how their names appear. Between 2012 and 2016, Georgia purged 1.5 million voters.

Similarly, Indiana has erased nearly half a million registered voters from its rolls, and North Dakota has stripped the voting rights of thousands of Native Americans. Nationwide, almost 16 million voters were purged between 2014 and 2016, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 4 million more than between 2006 and 2008.

More:OPED: Former GOP colleague blasts Perry's 'cold-hearted' policies '

More:OPED: Want to build a more diverse Capitol Hill? Start with the staff

More:OPED: Our call to duty on Election Day

The GOP is also openly embracing hostility to women, as we saw in the confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Republican leaders are characterizing Democrats and women anti-sexual-assault protesters as an “angry mob,” or what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a “far-left mob.” In a blatant appeal to anti-Semitism, Trump has claimed, without evidence, that the women who confronted Republican senators during the hearings were paid by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists — whom Trump has called “very fine people” — agree, applauding Kavanaugh’s confirmation and viewing his critics as part of a “race war” orchestrated by people of color, women and Jews to remove white men from power. “Every time some Anti-White, Anti-American, Anti-freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it,” read a flier posted at four college campuses, decrying the assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

Republicans know they cannot win with unpopular policies and a minority of voter support. So they have set out to stop people from voting, quell dissent, and rev up their base with appeals to bigotry.

As for those who are fed up with the divisiveness and toxicity coming from the GOP, there is one right response: Make sure you are registered to vote, then do it.

— David A. Love is a freelance writer and commentator based in Philadelphia. This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.