'An Achilles heel of American governance': Ohio politician sounds the alarm over state GOP’s all-out assault on democracy

'An Achilles heel of American governance': Ohio politician sounds the alarm over state GOP’s all-out assault on democracy

It's no secret that voter suppression, the Big Lie, partisan gerrymandering and other nakedly authoritarian tricks are at the heart of MAGA Republicanism. One Democrat who is sounding the alarm is David Pepper, former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party and author of the book "Laboratories of Autocracy." During an interview with Vanity Fair's Chris Smith, Pepper addressed the ways in which Republicans are assaulting democracy at the state level.

"Every few weeks," Pepper told Vanity Fair for a Q&A article published on October 20, "we all react to a crazy new law in some state, like voting restrictions in Texas. There's a lawsuit or a boycott — and then, we go back to debating something else that's happening in Washington. People never stop and think, 'Why does this keep happening in the states? Is anyone going to actually do something?' The problem is you say the word 'statehouse,' and people immediately go to sleep. But they are an Achilles heel of American governance: easily corruptible, unknown to most people, and with a lot of power to do damage."

Much of the gerrymandering that has occurred in congressional districts, according to Pepper, was inspired by GOP strategist Karl Rove.

Pepper told Vanity Fair, "Karl Rove was the one who, in 2009 — when the Republican Party was truly down and out — targeted the statehouses. He did what I wish Democrats had done, which is to pay attention to the levers of power that draw election districts, like the state auditor's office in Ohio. The incredible result of Rove's plan is that we're entering the second generation of state legislators who have never known real democracy. Because of gerrymandering, they've never faced a competitive general election. My guess is Rove was far more successful than even he anticipated."

2009 was a pre-MAGA era for the Republican Party, which is now dominated by people who are afraid to publicly criticize former President Donald Trump even after the January 6 insurrection. And he cites Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results as a glaring example of the modern GOP's authoritarianism.

"I hate to say it, but one thing about Trump: He has a good read on suckers," Pepper told Vanity Fair. "And who he can bully…. He understood that those unknown people, state officials and legislators he was flying into the White House, were the ones who can change the outcome. If they'd played that card sooner, it might have worked — and that's pretty scary."

According to Pepper, a major mistake that Democrats must not make is failing to "take right-wing talk seriously." And the former Ohio Democratic Party chairman warned that when Fox News' Tucker Carlson and the Conservative Political Action Conference are visiting Hungary and praising strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, that shouldn't be taken lightly.

"The fact that CPAC is going to Hungary next year for its conference, and Tucker Carlson is interviewing Orbán — you should be worried about that," Pepper told Vanity Fair. "They're not faking! They act on what they say, again and again, to keep power."

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