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May 15, 2014 3:55 PM No Break in the War on Voting

By Ed Kilgore

In case you were wondering if Rand Paul’s three-day revolt against the War on Voting his party is waging was either stimulating or might reflect a moment of glasnost on the subject, MSNBC’s Zachary Roth has some cold, cold water for you:

Paul’s walk-back is the inevitable result of some much larger trends. It’s not just that polls show voter ID remains popular—though that’s undoubtedly affecting the picture. More important is the GOP’s strategy for winning elections. For all the talk about the need to court Hispanics, the reality is that the easiest short-term path to victory for Republicans is to double-down on their advantage white voters, and work to make the electorate as white as possible. That means restrictions on voting—which hit blacks and Hispanics hardest—are likely to be a page in the party’s playbook for a while.
It’s no coincidence that some of the most important presidential swing states—Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, and North Carolina—have been the sites of the fiercest voting rights battles. Republicans know that without most of those states, they could be shut out of the White House for decades.
Nor is it a surprise that the list of Paul’s potential rivals for the nomination includes Republicans, like Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich, who have led the way in blocking access to the ballot. Not a single GOPer in the 2016 conversation has opposed voter ID—including Paul.
The Republican National Lawyers Association—the closest thing there is to an official GOP position on voting issues—is certainly showing no signs of retreating. Not only does the group defend voter ID as zealously as ever—it even opposes a recent recommendation from a bipartisan presidential commission to expand early voting.
The GOP’s approach to the Voting Rights Act is even more revealing about the direction it’s heading. In 2006, the overwhelming majority of Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats to reauthorize the landmark civil rights law. But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican, has so far failed to get party leaders to sign on to legislation to fix the law after it was weakened by the Supreme Court last year—even though it contains a special carve-out for voter ID, designed to win GOP support.

I would add that despite all the talk (abating lately) of Republicans needing to change positions, strategy and tactics to look less hostile to minority voters, you almost never hear Republicans admitting that hostility to voting rights is part of their problem. That may have been Rand Paul’s most important heresy: even bringing the subject up. Bet that won’t happen again.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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