The late Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority, was no fan of those so-called “good government” types.
They had what he called the “goo-goo syndrome.”
“They want everybody to vote,” he told the Religious Roundtable in August 1980. “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
Weyrich died in 2008, but his philosophy lives on.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, then a candidate for president, made that clear during a talk radio appearance in 2015.
“I know that most politicians say we want everyone to vote,” he said. “I’m gonna be honest with you. I don’t want everyone to vote.”
He made no bones about who should vote and who should not.
“If they’re gonna vote for me, they need to vote,” he said. “If they’re not gonna vote for me, they need to stay home. I mean, it’s that simple.”
Of course, a Republican victory doesn’t necessarily mean low voter turnout. Take Donald Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In that election, a record 137.5 million Americans cast ballots. The key to the outcome, though, was not just who voted but who didn’t.
Black voter turnout that year declined for the first time in five presidential elections, falling to 59.6% after reaching a record-high 66.6% in 2012. In 2012, Barack Obama was on the ballot, and the turnout percentage among black voters surpassed that of whites for the first time.
Still, the fact that minority participation dropped doesn’t mean that was the goal. Just ask Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was the state’s attorney general when he responded in 2013 to a complaint from the U.S. Department of Justice. The department’s claims of racial discrimination in the state’s redistricting plan were baseless, he said.
“In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats,” he wrote. “It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.”
Redistricting is just one tool in the toolbox for those seeking to drive down voter participation. There are also voter ID laws and other measures aimed at keeping turnout low.
And then, of course, there’s the campaign itself.
One way to keep your opponents from voting is to destroy their spirit. Convince them they’re faced with a choice between bad and worse.
In an election like that, Republicans have a clear advantage. They’re remarkably consistent about showing up on Election Day. Democrats, not so much.
Former President Bill Clinton summed up the challenge facing his party during a speech in 2003.
“You know the difference in Democrats and Republicans?” he asked. “In every presidential election, Democrats want to fall in love. Republicans just fall in line.”
Perhaps ironically, those tendencies likely played a role in his wife’s defeat in 2016. Republicans voted for a less than perfect candidate in Donald Trump while many Democrats just couldn’t quite get their arms around Hillary Clinton. Too many potential Clinton supporters voted for a third party candidate or just stayed home.
Even now, as more than 20 candidates compete for the affections of their party’s voters, Democrats worry that history will repeat itself in 2020.
For the Republicans, that’s all part of the plan.
Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at email@example.com.