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Thursday, August 16, 2018


Rules, schmules

by Tom Sullivan

Guile is not supposed to be a virtue. Not a Judeo-Christian one, anyway. Guile: deceitful cunning; duplicity, according to Websters. Yet "values" conservatives now regard it as a sign of strength. To win at any cost, including to one's integrity, is more important than personal integrity and faithfulness to abstractions like decency, fair play, and the rule of law. See the president they elected.

Michael Tomasky writes at Daily Beast that Republican politicians don't push back against Trump out of fear of his base, but because they like what he's doing.

The two major political parties in place since the 1850s adhered, more or less, to established norms on "basic democratic allocation of power," Tomasky writes (eliding nearly a century of Jim Crow rules under Democrats). Elections have consequences. Losing means control by political opponents. But the consensus has collapsed, driven primarily by the GOP:

The shutting down of the recount in Florida in 2000. The aggressive gerrymandering, first engineered by Tom DeLay. The Hastert Rule, holding that bills could pass the House only with a majority of Republicans, and not with bipartisan support. The attacks on voting rights—straight-up attempts to make it hard or even impossible for certain citizens to vote.
Some of it seems superfluous piling on. There are murmurings by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, to return selection of senators to state legislatures. And since the GOP controls 32 of them, it would guarantee a GOP Senate for the foreseeable future. Superfluous because, according to a prediction I've cited before:
"By 2040, 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states... home to the overwhelming majority of the 30 largest cities... that means 70% of Americans get all of 30 Senators and 30% get 70 Senators."
ALEC and the GOP simply don't want to wait. They are actively trying to rig the game so it's heads, they win; tails, Democrats lose. Tomasky continues:
And then came the mother of all rule changes, the Battle of Verdun, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the sack of Rome by the Vandals: the blocking of Merrick Garland. This was an unconscionable rewriting of the rules. Let the American people decide, they said. The American people had decided. They elected Barack Obama to a second term of four years. Not three.

I’ve thought a lot about why the Republicans didn’t just go through the motions of giving Garland his hearing and then rejecting him, as they had the votes to do. They could have scheduled it so that they voted him down in August, and then semi-plausibly argued that it was now too close to the election to proceed. Then, they would have played by the rules but still prevailed. So why didn’t they?

To my mind, there’s only one answer. They wanted to show the Democrats and the country that they didn’t play by the rules. They wanted to make that public demonstration to establish a precedent—to show, to return to my phrase from above, that they could exercise public contempt for the democratic allocation of power. And win.
By any means necessary. The only rule is winning. Trump is their patron saint.

Having lost a nonpartisan state Supreme Court race in 2016 to an African-American Democrat, Republicans in control of the North Carolina legislature made several changes to the election laws to tilt the game in their direction. They switched the contest to one in which candidates would carry party affiliation. They eliminated judicial primaries as well. Then a group affiliated with GOP consultants sent out mailers urging Democratic lawyers to run for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in an apparent attempt to flood the race with Democrats and dilute their opponents' votes. Democrats didn't bite, instead rallying around a single candidate.

Then Chris Anglin, a Raleigh attorney, took it on himself to switch his registration from Democrat and file to run as a Republican. Hoisted, petards, etc., Republicans cried foul and called a special legislative session to pass legislation to strip Anglin's ballot line of its "R." Naturally, this went to court. The ruling came down on Monday:
Wake County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Holt agreed in a forceful ruling handed down Monday afternoon. Holt explained that Anglin has “a vested right to have his party affiliation listed on the ballot”—a right the legislature infringed upon by changing the rules and applying them retroactively. This switcheroo “violates fundamental principles of fairness,” Holt found, “thereby violating [Anglin’s] right to due process” under the North Carolina constitution. She also held that the new law “severely burdens” Anglin’s “associational rights” under the state constitution by preventing him from affiliating with his chosen party. And because the law is justified by no compelling or legitimate state interest, she concluded, it must be set aside.
Rules, schmules. Rules are for losers. The NCGOP will appeal.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.