It has been true for at least a generation that the Republican party mostly appeals to a segment of the American population that is declining in numbers, relative to the entire population: white, frequent (Christian) churchgoers over 50. So what do you do when your party’s core is shrinking? You do what you can to shrink the other side.
Republicans have been very clever about pumping up the excitement of their shrinking base, from the Nixon-era “southern strategy” to Lee Atwater’s “new Southern strategy” for Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. in the 1980s, when Republicans used the specter of “welfare queens” and Willie Horton to frighten white voters to the polls …
Read this: The disappearing Republican voter
Atwater tutee Karl Rove boasted that the campaign drew out some 4 million new evangelical voters for George W. Bush in 2000 by spooking them about gays and abortion (and by promising constitutional amendments that never materialized.) And they successfully used the fear of 9/11-style terrorism and the ghosts of Vietnam to help get Bush re-elected in 2004.
Thos strategies proved unsuccessful against Bill Clinton, and against Barack Obama, both of whom were elected in the aftermath of recessions under Republican presidents. But in 2010, when as normally happens in midterms, the Democratic base – younger voters, Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, formed a smaller share of the electorate, and disgruntled liberal voters turned out in smaller numbers, while union households split their votes, the GOP seized the day. Organizations like Americans for Prosperity and other Koch-funded groups (and non-Koch Astroturf outfits like Rick Scott’s Conservatives for Patients Rights) worked to scare the hell out of white seniors and upper middle class voters on healthcare. They ironically reaped the outrage from the Bush bailout of Wall Street” to create the tea party movement, which also trades on soto voce racial/ethnic issues like immigration (which the Bushies once thought could be used to build a larger GOP base, before a Western backlash killed those plans) conspiracy theories over Barack Obama’s birthplace and even the fictional march of Sharia law. The tea party strategy paid dividends for Republicans in 2010 (though now, elected Republicans are struggling to live with the consequences.)
With 2012 looming, and voter anger at government decreasing according to the polls, Republicans are adjusting their strategy. Rather than focusing mostly on ginning up white voters, including on social issues (Republicans have been surprisingly muted on things like DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal) … and with healthcare losing altitude as a potent election issue - they’re seeking ways to diminish the impact of the Democratic coalition at the polls.
Having already taken down ACORN, which had been a key voter registration and mobilization vehicle among low income minority voters, newly elected Republican governors and state houses went after unions. That strategy seems to be backfiring horribly, but there’s no mistaking its purpose: hobbling the biggest contributor of money and manpower to Democratic campaigns.
And just as the Karl Rove crowd used ballot initiatives opposing gay marriage to help George Bush in 2004, Republicans are returning to such initiatives to open up a new front in 2012: they’re going after the college kids.
From today’s Washington Post:
New Hampshire’s new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They’re “foolish,” Speaker William O’Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.
“Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack “life experience,” and “they just vote their feelings.”
New Hampshire House Republicans are pushing for new laws that would prohibit many college students from voting in the state – and effectively keep some from voting at all.
One bill would permit students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there – requiring all others to vote in the states or other New Hampshire towns they come from. Another bill would end Election Day registration, which O’Brien said unleashes swarms of students on polling places, creating opportunities for fraud.
The measures in New Hampshire are among dozens of voting-related bills being pushed by newly empowered Republican state lawmakers across the country – prompting partisan clashes akin to those already roiling in some states over GOP moves to curb union power.
Backers of the voting measures say they would bring fairness and restore confidence in a voting system vulnerable to fraud. Many states, for instance, do not require identification to vote. Measures being proposed in 32 states would add an ID requirement or proof of citizenship, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
“I want to know when I walk into the poll that they know I am who I say I am and that nobody else has said that they are me,” said North Carolina state Rep. Ric Killian (R), who is preparing to introduce legislation that would require voters to show a photo ID at the polls.
Democrats charge that the real goal, as with anti-union measures in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere, is simply to deflate the power of core Democratic voting blocs – in this case young people and minorities. For all the allegations of voter fraud, Democrats and voting rights groups say, there is scant evidence to show that it is a problem.
“It’s a war on voting,” said Thomas Bates, vice president of Rock the Vote, a youth voter- registration group mounting a campaign to fight the array of state measures. “We’d like to be advocating for a 21st-century voting system, but here we are fighting against efforts to turn it back to the 19th century.”
Democrats appear to be ready for it – and it’s no coincidence that these battles will be fought in states that went to Obama in 2008, including Wisconsin and North Carolina.