Say what you want about the GOP (and I do), but they are experts at winning elections – particularly Presidential contests. Since FDR died in 1945, only one Democrat has won two Presidential elections – Bill Clinton in 1992 & 1996 – while four Republicans have accomplished that feat (Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush Jr. and Nixon, who resigned during his second term). In that time period, the GOP have also won 49 of the 50 states on two occasions (Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in 1984), while the most a Democratic candidate gained was 44 in 1964 by Lyndon B. Johnson and that was against an opponent, Barry Goldwater, who was unpopular even in his own party. In this year’s campaign, they have nominated a man who was besmirched by Fox News and his own party as not being a true Republican, yet Governor Romney is just a single point behind President Obama in the latest national polls.
Obviously the GOP has a core group of supporters who believe in their policies and issues; but in order to gain widespread support and give their man (and it is always a man) the best chance possible of winning the Oval Office, they use three main strategies. They are as follows:
I am not talking about the alleged ballot box stuffing and dead people voting, as is suspected to have happened in President Kennedy’s win in 1960, rather the Republican Party have discovered a way of passing laws that help increase their chances of success in elections. They do not even make this a secret; in fact, they are proud of their accomplishments, even when it goes against the core principles of democracy.
A recent law was passed in Pennsylvania requiring residents to show a Photo ID when they turn up to vote in November’s election. taken at face value, this may seem to be a way of preventing voter fraud and nothing to do with partisan politics, but the opposite is the case. Since 2000, there have been a total of 10 documented cases of in-person voter fraud, in the entire country, sufficient evidence that it is not a widespread problem by any definition. However, the requirement for photo ID will disproportionately affect ethnic minorities – 1 in 10 people in the general population do not have such identification, but the number is 1 in 4 for African-Americans and 1 in 6 for Hispanics, two groups which tend to support Democrats. If there was any doubt of the true purpose of this law, it was vanquished by Mike Turzai, a Pennsylvania State Representative, who told the Republican State Committee that it had been “done to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania”. It is also no coincidence that the 10 states in which such bills have been passed (Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin) all have Republican Governors and GOP-controlled State Legislatures.
The Republicans have passed laws to stop voter fraud which was not happening, that will prevent many potential Democratic voters from being able to cast their ballots in November, and have openly admitted to the true goals of this legislation. While such practices are not to be admired by any stretch, it is hard to argue with the effectiveness of what they are doing. Should Governor Romney carry those 10 states and the 127 Electoral College Votes they bring with them, he will be nearly half way to the 270 he needs to win the White House.
Florida’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott, has been working to have 2,700 people (cut down from an original list of 182,000) removed from the electoral roll, with the claim that they were non-citizens. Only 40 of those names have thus far been proven to be ineligible to vote (compared with 500 who have been shown to be citizens) but the State has won the right to compare their list with the Department of Homeland Security’s records and they aim to do another cut of the voter register before November 6th.
Disenfranchisement can also occur on election day and often without cause. In 2008, the actor Tim Robbins – who had spoken out to warn people not to accept provisional ballots, as research had shown that they were often lost or discarded – was himself informed that he was not registered to vote. As he had the time to spare, Robbins contested that decision and went to the Board of Elections, who verified he was correctly registered and thus was able to cast his ballot. Systemic issues are damaging to democracy if they result in not every vote being counted, but when it is targeted towards a specific group, as was reported to have happened in the 2000 election, then it leaves the whole process open to manipulation. When Florida became the key state that ultimately determined who would win the Presidency in 2000, African-Americans were ten times more likely to have their votes rejected as their white counterparts in that state.
If you repeat something often enough, then it will become accepted as fact by the general population – this appears to be the core belief of the Republican Party and their main cheerleader, Fox News. For so long, the “birther” movement – whose members claim that President Obama was not born in this country – have been given airtime on this issue. This has continued despite the release of Obama’s birth certificate – a Gallup pollshowed that 23% of Republicans still believed he was not a natural-born citizen. Even Governor Romney,
who has never been part of the “birther” movement, last month rallied a crowd by stating that “nobody has ever asked to see my birth certificate” – as if being accused of something false was the President’s fault (had he been in Paterson, New Jersey in the mid-60s, Romney would probably have chastised Rubin “Hurricane” Carter that he was never accused of a triple homicide too). In July of this year, a poll showed that 17% of respondents believed that President Obama was a Muslim, with only 49% correctly identifying him as a Christian. It is sad that the first African-American to win the White House has been subjected to questions about his birthplace and religion, but the underlying racism that backs up the conspiracy theories means it is not a coincidence either.
During the GOP debates and at the Republican National Convention, one of the major themes was that President Obama presented a threat to the American way of life; that he was a European Socialist who wanted to destroy everything that made the USA great; and his actions (cutting defense spending) and inactions (not bombing Iran) increased the National Security risk of the country. They call Obamacare the Government takeover of healthcare (it isn’t) and claim that he wants to raise taxes to unprecedented high levels (he’s continued the historically low rates on the top earners inherited from the Bush administration). By creating an illusion of a monster President who is deliberately trying to sabotage the nation and will complete his master-plan should he get a second term, the Republicans have been able to keep the race closer than could have been predicted. Romney was disliked by his own party and subject to smear campaigns of his own during the Primaries, yet now he has the full weight of the Right behind him, he is able to remain neck-and-neck with the President in the polls.
Misinformation reached a peak during the RNC when the theme for one of the nights was “We Built It” – a reference to a speech that President Obama had given where he declared that if you had a business, “you did not build that”. Except, he was referring to the infrastructure of roads and bridges, and the entire American economy setup, not to an individual’s business. By taking this quote out of context, the GOP developed an entire theme based on a falsehood on the night that their candidate’s wife and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were giving their speeches, but there is no guarantee that those who were watching knew what the President had actually said. At least the tag lines of the other two nights of the Conference were more honest, if you read the subtext:
Wednesday – “We can change it” – the truth
Thursday – “We believe in America” – but not evolution…or climate change.
Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan – a man heralded as a harbinger of truth – delivered a speech to the RNC that was pure fiction. However, if voters do not look beyond the soundbites to see that: the GM plant that closed in Ryan’s hometown was shutdown before Obama was elected; or that he had voted against the debt commission’s report that the President had not acted on; or that it was the House of Representatives that Standard and Poor blamed for the Credit downgrade, not the executive branch; then they may have been persuaded to vote for Romney. Ann Romney talked about how hard the early years were for her and Mitt, as if he was not the son of a millionaire and Governor of Michigan, and presented an image of herself as being an ordinary woman, who knows from experience the struggles of every day life. Of course, the average person does not own a horse that was in the Summer Olympics competing in the Dressage – an event that can best be described as horse ballet.
It is only because a large part of the electorate is willing to take things at face value, or are too blinded by their hatred of President Obama to see the truth, that the Republicans can get away with such misinformation. Nevertheless, when the first Presidential debate takes place on October 2nd, the GOP will have to contend with the real life man, not some figment of Clint Eastwood’s imagination.
The Greatest Trick the GOP Ever Pulled
Perhaps the biggest lie, the one that has helped Republicans with so many Presidential elections as well as control of the House of Representatives for 14 of the last 18 years, is by convincing the poorest in the nation that they should vote for them, despite it being against their best interests. By selling the American dream, that everyone has the opportunity to be rich if they just work hard enough, the GOP is able to sell their policies of low taxation on the highest earners and limited welfare, because people believe that one day they will make it and do not want to be “penalised” when they do. Strong red states like West Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama receive twice as much back from the federal government than they pay in taxes, but their citizens still believe in smaller Government and reducing benefits. As one of the men in this film – made by Alexandra Pelosi for “Real Time with Bill Maher” – puts it, voting Republican may not have worked for him yet, but it could. Or, as the actor Craig T. Nelson said to Glenn Beck, he was on food stamps and welfare, but nobody ever helped him out.
Republicans have been able to paint themselves as a party that is fiscally responsible and helps grow the economy; are best for national security; and are the true patriots; while their Democratic opponents want to hand out free money to everybody; open the border with Mexico; and will take away your guns. If this is how the debate continues to be framed, then the GOP will continue their success. However, if the real issues and facts become part of the conversation – like the proof that the economy actually performs better under Democratic Presidents – then the Republican party will need to move away from the fringes and back to the centre-right – ground on which, by comparison to the present day, Ronald Reagan’s administration was firmly planted.