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Cody Fenwick

This polling expert saw warning signs for Clinton in 2016 — now he sees few hints of hope for Trump

Dave Wasserman, a polling expert with the Cook Political Report, closely watches polling at the district level in the United States. And in 2016, he saw signs in the data that Donald Trump was performing better than many expected in areas like New York's 22nd District — where Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were tied in 2012. Those warnings turned out to be prescient when Trump eked out a narrow win in three key swing states while losing in the popular vote.

Now, though, Wasserman has said he sees little sign of hope for Trump's re-election, even as Democrats continue to fear that former Vice President Joe Biden's polling lead will evaporate in the coming days:

An important point about his claims is that Wasserman, a nonpartisan analyst, is privy to a lot of information that isn't publicly available. While there's a lot of public national and state-level polling, district-level polls are harder to come by. Many pollsters keep this info private, though they will share it with people like Wasserman. This data can give a closer glimpse into trends and demographic changes in the electorate that other polls may be missing.

But according to Wasserman, this data should give Trump no solace. It's consistent with Biden's estimated 10-point lead in the FiveThirtyEight national polling average. He explained his findings in an interview with Greg Sargent of the Washington Post.

"In 2016, district-level polling in late October showed flashing red warning signs for Clinton in districts dominated by White non-college voters," he said. "It wasn't being detected so much in state-level polling, because the state polling chronically under-sampled those voters."

But in 2020, Wasserman is seeing a consistent pattern, and it's not good for Trump.

"Trump is underperforming his 2016 margins by eight to 10 points in most competitive districts. If Trump won a district by three last time, he's probably losing it by six this time. It's a pretty consistent pattern," he explained.

There are some exceptions and variations, but overall, it's a brutal picture for the president. He won by the skin of his teeth in 2016 — and he is dramatically underperforming that race.

Trump is doing worst in "upscale suburbs," Wasserman explained, while he has improved somewhat in his support in some Latino communities. Biden is doing better than Clinton did in districts that are predominately populated by "blue-collar Whites," though not as well as the Obama-Biden ticket did in 2012.

But Biden is improving most in areas dominated by college-educated white people, and that demographic may well be decisive on Nov. 3. It also means Trump has a difficult path forward to claw back from the hole he's in.

"Trump needs to boost turnout of non-college Whites by five points nationally, just to offset their declining share of the population since 2016. But he also needs to increase the share of those voters he's winning," said Wasserman. "Trump's gains among non-Whites can only get him so far, because there's really not much of a Hispanic vote in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. So he's got to solve this riddle with both persuasion and turnout. He needs to persuade more White voters — both college and non-college — to stick with him. And he really needs to boost non-college White turnout."

It's not impossible that Trump could pull it off, but it's hard to see it happening.

Trump's '60 Minutes' interview is looking like a disaster before it even airs

Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, along with their running mates, are slated to appear on Sunday in the upcoming episode of the CBS news and interview show "60 Minutes." But reporting from CNN and Trump's own comments made it clear on Tuesday that his interview with the network did not go to his liking.

"I am pleased to inform you that, for the sake of accuracy in reporting, I am considering posting my interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, PRIOR TO AIRTIME! This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about," Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday evening. "Everyone should compare this terrible Electoral Intrusion with the recent interviews of Sleepy Joe Biden!"

Trump also released a brief clip of "60 Minutes" host Lesley stahl, trying to shame her for not wearing a mask:

Presumably, Stahl wasn't wearing a mask during her onscreen interview, and had yet to put one on in the clip Trump posted. It was an odd attempt to shame her, given his repeated statements casting doubt on and diminishing the importance of mask use during the pandemic. It may indicate that mask-wearing was a subject of a dispute between them during the interview.

Trump's claim about "Electoral Intrusion" reflects a bizarre trend in conservative rhetoric. Foreign election interference was discussed extensively following the 2016 campaign because of Russia's efforts to meddle in the democratic process. But trying to turn that idea around and accuse critics of Trump and the GOP of domestic election interference makes no sense, because Americans and American media are expected to be a part of the electoral process.

CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins published a report Tuesday that also pointed to a disastrous interview.

Collins said that while CBS was at the White House to conduct the interview, Trump "abruptly" ended the discussion after 45 minutes. He reportedly said they had enough material to use for the show. He then declined to reappear on the show along with Vice President Mike Pence for another segment, as had been planned.

Trump's tweets suggest that he was not happy with the questions and fact-checking he was faced with, perhaps because they were critical of his handling of the pandemic. But we'll have a better idea of what happened at least by Sunday — maybe even sooner, if the White House decides to release its own footage.

A stunning split decision at the Supreme Court may be the most significant election case of 2020

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued what may be its most significant decision involving the 2020 election, and the Democratic Party should be pleased. But there are still reasons for consternation.

Splitting 4-4, the court left in place the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to extend the deadline to receive mail-in votes until Nov. 6, three days after Election Day. As long as ballots are postmarked by the end of voting on Nov. 3, and received by the 6th, election officials will count the vote.

Court watchers had noted that the decision was taking longer than expected, leading to extensive speculation about the backroom machinations. Surprisingly, there was no long dissent or other written opinion that would explain the delay. Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the three liberals on the court in favor of leaving the extension in place, and the four other conservatives voted to overturn it. Many pointed out that were Judge Amy Coney Barrett a Supreme Court justice, as she is expected to be confirmed shortly, she would likely have sided with the other conservatives and flipped the result of the ruling.

But since the court was evenly split, the Pennsylvania court's decision stands.

This is potentially significant for several reasons. First, Pennsylvania is rated by FiveThirtyEight to be the state most likely to be the "tipping point" state in 2020 presidential election. That means if the race comes down to a single state's vote, that state is most likely Pennsylvania. Second, extensive polling shows that Democrats are far more likely to be voting by mail than Republicans are. Giving voters more time to get their ballots in and have them count makes it more likely that Democrats, and former Vice President Joe Biden in particular, will prevail in the election.

Republicans brought the challenge to the Supreme Court, arguing that the states' supreme court had overruled the legislature's decision to set its elections laws. Democrats opposed this challenge, arguing that the state supreme court has protected Pennsylvanians' right to vote. Law professor Josh Douglas argued that the conservatives' vote to hear the case and possibly overturn the state court's ruling could undermine the very idea of states having their own constitutions.

Some even warned that the votes counted after Election Day may not end up counted anyway, if Republicans take their challenge back to the Supreme Court once Barrett is confirmed. However, it's not guaranteed that even the four conservative justices would vote the same way if they consider the case again.

This single sentence from a federal court's ruling exposes the dark right-wing view of voting

Three judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday stayed an injunction by a lower district court that sought to protect the voting rights of Texans voting by mail.

The majority decision, written by Judge Jerry E. Smith, blocked the lower court's orders to Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs that would have required officials to notify Texans whose mail ballots were rejected because of an apparent signature mismatch and give them an opportunity to address the issue. Under current law, election officials can reject a mail ballot if they determine that the signature does not match the voter's signature on file; officials must notify the voter of the rejection within 10 days. But even then, the voter may not be given an opportunity to fix the problem.

As the result of an ongoing lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ordered Hughs to adopt procedures that would allow voters to address a signature mismatch, or to stop rejecting ballots based on signature issues altogether. Judge Orlando Garcia said the existing policy "plainly violates certain voters' constitutional rights." But the Fifth Circuit rejected this injunction, saying Hughs should follow the law as written — rejecting ballots without necessarily giving voters any due process.

In a remarkable sentence encapsulating the emerging right-wing view of voting rights, the decision explained:

Because Texas's strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state's voting procedures place on the right to vote, we stay the injunction pending appeal.

While this may sound like dry legalese, it's a dramatically bold and unambiguously dangerous idea. The court's claim is that "any burden" on the right to vote can be justified if it is meant to restrict the opportunity for voter fraud.

This notion sounds like a farcical caricature of Republicans' views on voting, but it's an actual statement from right-wing judges defending a right-wing administration. It falls apart under even the mildest scrutiny though. While preventing voter fraud is surely a legitimate interest of the state, there must be some reasonable limits on how far the government can go in trying to prevent it. Is it reasonable to, say, create so many obstacles to voting that 10,000 fewer ballots will be cast in an election if doing so will also stop a handful of fraudulent ballots?

The answer should obviously be "no." The problem with voter fraud is that it distorts the will of the electorate, undermining the very point of a democracy. But if efforts to combat voter fraud distort the democratic process even more than fraud would, it's difficult to see how they can be justified. And all the best evidence indicates that voter fraud is incredibly rare.

But when Republicans discuss voter fraud, all they ever seem to care about is stopping the extremely rare cases of illegally cast ballots. They almost never consider balancing the risk of fraud with the risk of preventing legitimate votes from being cast. In this decision, the court made that view explicit. And it's even more absurd than it sounds, because the decision actually allows election officials to literally throw away votes that may have been legitimately cast without giving the voter any platform to challenge this decision. Isn't this at least as bad as voter fraud?

The Texas Tribune reports of this process:

The state election code does not establish any standards for signature review, which is conducted by local election officials who seldom have training in signature verification.

So at best, the disposal of ballots may be entirely capricious. At worst, it could disproportionately target groups of voters that the existing government would rather not have voting — minority groups, for instance, that may be likely to vote Democrat. It may be hard to say what the motivation is for the laws in this particular case, but the GOP's actions in the past decade have made clear that they see restricting the right to vote as a vital part of retaining electoral power. The court's reasoning lays bear this motivation: Based on the slimmest fears about "voter fraud," they can justify restricting voters' rights as much as possible. The path to illegitimately holding on to office is clear.

The Fifth Court's decision justified the stay in part by arguing against the idea that there's a due process protection for the right vote. But even if there is, the court argued, there isn't a right to vote by mail — that's simply an option that Texas provides without being obligated to.

This reasoning, though, is spurious. If Texas provides voters the option to vote by mail, it is not reasonable that it can then simply reject those ballots based on dubious and unreviewable claims of a signature mismatch that the voter may not even be alerted to until after Election Day has passed. Once it has provided the option of voting by mail, Texas is still obligated to ensure that the process provides reasonable protections for voters' rights.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Patrick Higginbotham rejected the majority's arguments for the stay. He agreed with issuing the stay, however, noting the difficulties of changing election rules while votes are already being cast. And he warned that the matter in question is grave:

In 2016 and 2018, "approximately 5,000 [Texas] ballots were rejected on the basis of perceived signature mismatches."8 Such "small" differences have the potential to decide both local and national elections. And with the large increase in votes cast by mail in our ongoing pandemic that error rate would toss out far greater numbers. There is much at stake here.

Trump's NBC town hall immediately goes off the rails as he berates the host

President Donald Trump is down sharply in the polls against former Vice President Joe Biden, so he desperately needs to do something to change the course of the race.

But right at the start of his NBC News town hall on Thursday, Trump went on a tear of aggressive argument and disinformation with host Savannah Guthrie.

Once again, Guthrie asked Trump to denounce white supremacy. This question was a major pitfall for him in the first presidential debate. This time, he was at least able to get out the words "I denounce white supremacy." But his behavior told a different story. He clearly wanted to move beyond the topic quickly, attacking Antifa and Guthrie herself for asking the question. The fact that he was so offended to even be asked the question was revealing in itself.

He spoke extremely fast and frequently raised his voice to Guthrie, clearly trying to bully her. Much of what he said was nonsensical, false, or intentional disinformation.

But while he would denounce white supremacy — however reluctantly — Trump refused to denounce QAnon, the disturbing right-wing and anit-Semitic conspiracy fiction that alleges a massive Satanic pedophilia cult run by Democrats. Trump, in this delusion, is fighting the cult. Trump has been asked about it before, and offered some vague support to the group, but he pretended to Guthrie that he didn't know enough about it to denounce it.

Not only did he not denounce the adherents of QAnon, he offered them some support, saying: "I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard." This is, in fact, false. By pushing wild conspiracy theories about pedophiles, these groups actually can make it harder for law enforcement and others to effectively tackle the problem. Adherents of the theory have been implicated in multiple criminal cases themselves.

Later, Guthrie asked the president about his choice to retweet bogus stories alleging that members of the Navy's SEAL Team Six had been murdered and that the killing of Osama bin Laden under President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden was a hoax. It was a truly baffling thing for the president to share, though it went largely ignored prior to the town hall because the media is used to this behavior.

And when Trump was pressed on his retweets, he made no defense for spreading disinformation from his extremely large online platform. He said readers can "decide for themselves" — which isn't the attitude he takes when his opponents are spreading what he calls "fake news."

The conversation soon shifted to discussion of the election, and Trump immediately started spreading more disinformation, as Business Insider reporter Grace Panetta noted:

GOP senator caught on tape in angry tirade against Trump's character, corruption and failure

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska was recorded delivering an extensive tirade on his scathing view of President Donald Trump during a call with constituents, the Washington Examiner revealed Thursday in a new story.

Sasse was asked by a questioner why he disagrees with the president as much as he does. At first, Sasse tried to emphasize the agreements he has with Trump on policy, citing the president's judicial appointments, and arguing that the president has actually moved toward more traditionally Republican views since his election.

But then he began to explain where he parts with the president, saying the disagreements are about more than "mere policy issues."

Sasse echoed many of the arguments Democrats have made about Trump's unfitness and grotesque character over the years. (Notably, Sasse did not vote to remove Trump during the impeachment proceedings in the Senate, as GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah did. And while Sasse was once a vocal critic of the president, he quieted his opposition when he needed Trump's support during his primary campaign.)

"The way he kisses dictators' butts. I mean, the way he ignores that the Uighurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang. Right now, he hasn't lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong-Kongers," Sasse said. "The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor. The ways I criticize President Obama for that kind of spending; I've criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He's flirted with white supremacists."

He was also critical of the president's response to the pandemic, though he prefaced his comments by saying the media takes the criticism too far.

"First, he ignored COVID," Sasse explained. "And then he went into full economic shutdown mode. He was the one who said 10 to 14 days of shutdown would fix this. And that was always wrong. I mean, and so I don't think the way he's lead through COVID has been reasonable or responsible, or right."

He also warned that Trump is likely turning off young voters from the Republican Party and conservatism.

"If young people become permanent Democrats because they've just been repulsed by the obsessive nature of our politics, or if women who were willing to still vote with the Republican Party in 2016 decide that they need to turn away from this party permanently in the future," he explained. "I've spent lots of the of the last year on a campaign bus, and when you listen to Nebraskans, they don't really want more rage tweeting as a new form of entertainment."

A staffer for Sasse confirmed the authenticity of the recording to the Examiner, but expressed outrage that people are so focused on the presidential race: "The fragile Senate seats that will determine whether Democrats nuke the Senate are the races Ben cares about, the races he's working on, and the only races he's talking about."

Watch the clip below:

There’s a fraud at the heart of Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation process

When nominees come before the U.S. Senate hoping to join the Supreme Court, the proceedings are filled with bizarre rituals of posturing, platitudes and obfuscation. Much of this process has become ridiculous and regrettable — nominees pretend that they shouldn't be expected to divulge their opinions on crucial matters over which they'll essentially have final say in a lifetime appointment, and senators decide how much transparency they expect from the nominee based on the party of the president that nominated them.

But as Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination proceeds this week, there was something clearly much darker going on than the odd political dance that has traditionally developed around such events. There's a fraud being carried out.

The only remaining question is: Who is being defrauded? Who is the mark?

The existence of the fraud, however, is evident. There's a clear disconnect between how Barrett claims to view her nomination and how President Donald Trump views her nomination.

Since his presidential campaign, Trump has been clearer than any other modern Republican president about how he views the courts. They are, without a doubt, a vehicle for enacting the views of his right-wing supporters, particularly evangelical Christians and opponents of abortion. (His audience, too, includes corporations and the wealthy who look to the courts to curtail any effort to rein in their economic and societal power, though he is less explicit about that)

On abortion, he was clear in 2016 that his judicial appointments would be designed to tear down protections for women's right to choose. He said of his nominees: "They will be pro-life, and we will see what about overturning."

"I will appoint judges that will be pro-life, yes," he said, promising to "protect the sanctity of life" and adding, "I will protect it, and the biggest way you can protect it is through the Supreme Court and putting people in the court." With these nominees, he said, overturning Roe v. Wade — the ruling that established a right to get an abortion — will happen "automatically."

On Obamacare, Trump tweeted in 2015:

Chief Justice Roberts disappointed conservatives when he upheld most of the Affordable Care Act in 2012, ruling that its controversial individual mandate was permissible under Congress's taxing authority. Now, a similar case has come before the Supreme Court to be heard shortly after the election, likely after Barrett will be confirmed. Barrett has previously criticized Roberts' 2012 ruling, and if she joined the court, she could plausibly join a 5-seat majority that could strike down the entire law. Clearly, that's what Trump wanted, and he has recently said it would be "a big win."

Trump has also made clear that he expects the nominee he picked to protect him from the "hoax" of mail-in ballots in any potential legal dispute over the upcoming election.

"We need nine justices. You need that," Trump told reporters on Sept. 23. "With the unsolicited millions of ballots that they're sending, it's a scam; it's a hoax. Everybody knows that. And the Democrats know it better than anybody else. So you're going to need nine justices up there. I think it's going to be very important. Because what they're doing is a hoax, with the ballots."

It's clear, then, that Trump picked Barrett as his nominee with very specific reasons in mind — indeed, he picked her, at least in part, to fulfill promises to his right-wing voters. And given right-wing media's enthusiasm for Barrett, it seems they believe he is fulfilling his promise.

But according to Barrett, Trump hasn't fulfilled his promise. Under repeated questioning from senators, she denied that she would come to the court with any specific agenda.

"I have no mission and no agenda," she said. "Judges don't have campaign promises."

Asked specifically about Trump's tweet on Obamacare by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Barrett swatted away the question.

"I can't really speak to what the president has said on Twitter," she said. "He hasn't said any of that to me."

She also claimed: "I am 100 percent committed to judicial independence from political pressure."

So what is going on here? Trump told voters repeatedly that his justices would rule a certain way. These promises almost certainly were crucial to consolidating Republican support in the run-up to the 2016 election. But Barrett said that she is not committed to ruling any particular way in future cases, and the president has no influence on her decisions.

There are three plausible options I can see. First, Trump defrauded his voters. He pretended to want to appoint judges that would act in a certain way, but he didn't or couldn't fulfill that promise. Second, Barrett could have defrauded Trump. Did she let him believe she would act as a justice in the way he hoped, while in fact she had no plans to carry out his agenda? Or third, Barrett is defrauding all of us. She is committed to the right-wing agenda touted by Trump, but she doesn't want us or the U.S. Senate to know it.

One might object that there's another possibility. Perhaps Barrett isn't committed to the president's agenda, but her perspective and jurisprudential approach — which she calls "originalism" — will just happen to lead her to to take steps in line with Trump's vision.

This view strains credibility on its face, and it's also undermined by Barrett's own words.

"If I'm confirmed, you would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett," she said. "And that's so because originalists don't always agree, and neither do textualists."

So even if Barrett's "originalism" were an independent, non-agenda driven philosophy, the president couldn't and shouldn't be persuaded that she'll act the way he wants on the bench.

We must then accept the conclusion, then, that there's a fraud at the heart of Barrett's nomination. It's a disturbing thought, and one she should be willing to address.

Justice Sotomayor warns of 'irreparable harm' as the Supreme Court cuts the census short

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the sole dissenter on Tuesday when the Supreme Court decided to allow the Trump administration to cut short the census, which a lower court had ordered must continue until Oct. 31.

Under Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Census Bureau had initially extended its deadline for completing the census — a count of the people in the United States crucial for determining the distribution of funds, services, and electoral representatives — until the end of October because of disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The census had already been a major point of political controversy, as Republicans stood accused of using a citizenship question (since removed) to discourage minority residents from responding to the survey. But after deciding to extend the census, officials abruptly reversed themselves and cut the count short, hoping to end it by the last day of September.

A group of various individual an entities who fear they would be harmed by this change challenged the decision legally, and eventually the Commerce Department was ordered by the courts to continue the count. But now, the Supreme Court his stayed that order, permitting the administration to stop counting in a brief, unsigned declaration offering no explanation for its decision.

Only Sotomayor objected, writing a detailed dissent explaining why she though the majority's decision is wrong.

"I would deny a stay of that injunction," she wrote. 'The Government fails to demonstrate that the injunction is likely to cause it irreparable harm. Regardless of the merits of respondents' claims, this failure, alone, requires denying the requested stay."

The only reason the administration claimed it needed to end the count early, she said, is that it is required to turn over the results of the census to the president by the end of the year, according to the statute.

But, Sotomayor pointed out, officials have already said that it is "impossible" for the Census Bureau to turn over the results of the count by the Dec. 31 deadline regardless of whether they stop now. And they have an alternative: The administration can ask Congress to simply extend the deadline, which officials had already begun to do by the time the Commerce Department decided to cut the census short. They also could direct more resources toward speeding up the analysis of the census data, Sotomayor said, but the department does not appear to have considered this option.

So while the harms the administration says it will suffer seem dubious, Sotomayor said the harms suffered by people impacted by an undercount could be significant.

"In contrast to the Government's unsupported claims of irreparable harm, respondents will suffer substantial injury if the Bureau is permitted to sacrifice accuracy for expediency. As the District Court found, and the Ninth Circuit credited, '[a]n inaccurate count would affect the distribution of federal and state funding, the deployment of services, and the allocation of local resources," she wrote.

She also noted that the administration has claimed it has already counted 99 percent of people.

"But even a fraction of a percent of the Nation's 140 million households amounts to hundreds of thousands of people left uncounted," she explained. "And significantly, the percentage of nonresponses is likely much higher among marginalized populations and in hard-to-count areas, such as rural and tribal lands."

She also noted that in 2010, the Census continued its count for a full month after already reaching the 99 percent threshold.

"The harms caused by rushing this year's census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years," Sotomayor concluded.

Republicans are waging all-out war on democracy — and now they're openly admitting it

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah sparked a backlash this week when made an undercurrent of the modern conservative movement and the driving ideology of the Republican Party explicit.

"We're not a democracy," Lee tweeted on Oct. 7.

Twitter's not exactly known for the capacity to have in-depth discussions on political philosophy, but Lee hadn't even come close to using up his 280 characters. After significant outrage stirred by his first tweet, Lee expanded on the idea the following day with a slightly longer message.

"Democracy isn't the objective; liberty, peace, and [prosperity] are," he wrote. "We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that."

Again, it was a striking sentiment, and it inflamed critics who have accused the Lee and the GOP of systematically trying to disenfranchise constituencies they believe won't vote for Republicans. But Lee didn't back down. He went to the conservative outlet the Washington Examiner, which essentially transcribed his own defense of his claims with little analysis or reflection. He shared a piece from DeseretNews, which offered a more balanced take on the controversy. And Conn Carroll, a spokesperson for Lee, provided a statement to Vox further defending the comments:

At a time when Democrats want to pack the Court, eliminate the Electoral College, and turn the Senate into the House, it is very good that Americans are re-reading The Federalist Papers to rediscover why the founders put these specific republican checks on democratic passion into the Constitution.

But none of the defenses could shield from the fact that the senator's sentiments reflect a growing and dangerous anti-democratic element on the modern right-wing. The instinct has always been there, in some form or another, but you would nevertheless hear Republicans pay lip-service to the idea of democracy. Cynically, though, they began pushing extremely anti-democratic policies, such as restrictive voter ID laws and racial gerrymandering meant to dilute the votes of minorities and Democrats. They offered pro-forma excuses for these policies, such as voting the virtually non-existent problem of voter fraud, but many surely knew that they were just taking whatever advantage they could to keep power.

Lee's remarks, however, show how those cynical power grabs can merge with an ideology that is intrinsically elitist and whose adherents know it's deeply unpopular. This creates a strong incentive to rationalize opposition to democracy and justify restricting the influence of ordinary citizens on the government. The Utah senator's willingness to be openly dismissive of democracy may signal that his party will be increasingly willing to not even espouse traditional democratic values. This isn't likely to be a popular stance, but if they get their way, that won't matter.

Republicans, after all, already know they need to distort the playing field win and rule. That's why they concoct bizarre and ad hoc excuses for preserving the Electoral College, despite the fact that it was a ham-fisted compromise at the country's founding that has served to put the more unpopular candidate in the White House twice in living memory. That's why they're thrilled to appoint conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, breaking the countless promises they made to leave seats open during a presidential campaign and rushing the process in the weeks before an election. They want their 6-3 conservative court, which can theoretically stand in the way of Democratic majorities in Congress and a Democratic president from enacting a popular agenda.

Loren Culp, Republican candidate for Washington Governor, articulated the objection to democracy in a recent video:

This is exactly the point. Republicans fear that, if the people are adequately represented in government, the government will have to do things they like, such as providing for basic needs like health care and housing. They deride providing such services as "socialism," which the Republican mind cannot abide.

In a recent column, the New York Times' Jamelle Bouie dispelled the frequently touted nonsense that the United States isn't a "democracy" but a "republic":

For the founders, "democracy" did not mean majority rule in a system of representation. The men who led the revolution and devised the Constitution were immersed in classical literature and political theory. Ancient Greece, in particular, was a cautionary tale. When James Madison critiqued "democracy" in Federalist No. 10, he meant the Athenian sort: "a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person." This he contrasted with a "republic" or "a government in which the scheme of representation takes place." Likewise, in a 1788 speech to the New York ratification convention, Alexander Hamilton disavowed "the ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated." They "never possessed one good feature of government," he said. "Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity."

In more modern terms, the founders feared "direct democracy" and accounted for its dangers with a system of "representative democracy." Yes, this "republic" had counter-majoritarian aspects, like equal representation of states in the Senate, the presidential veto and the Supreme Court. But it was not designed for minority rule.


If there's substance behind "We're a republic, not a democracy," it's not as a description of American government. There's really no difference, in the present, between a "republic" and a "democracy": Both connote systems of representation in which sovereignty and authority derive from the public at large.

The point of the slogan isn't to describe who we are, but to claim and co-opt the founding for right-wing politics — to naturalize political inequality and make it the proper order of things. What lies behind that quip, in other words, is an impulse against democratic representation. It is part and parcel of the drive to make American government a closed domain for a select, privileged few.

The anti-democratic impulse is commonplace on the right. GOP Chair Ronna McDaniel, for example, celebrated on Thursday a series of court rulings that make it harder for the American people to vote:

Meanwhile, Trump has explicitly said he thinks he needs Barrett to be approved by the Senate because he expects the Supreme Court to determine the result of the November election. He's not satisfied with simply competing in the Electoral College which, at least in 2016, was tilted in his favor. He's run a months-long disinformation campaign attacking mail-in voting, claiming the election will be rigged, and demanding that his supporters become poll-watchers — likely as an attempt to intimidate Democrats who want to cast ballots. He wants chaos, and then he wants his hand-picked justices to hand him the election, regardless of the will of the people.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Trump sycophant, seems to agree.

"Now, we may have litigation about who won the election, but the court will decide," he said last month. "And, if the Republicans lose, we will accept that result. But we need a full court, and I think that's possible before the election."

So it should be clear that it's not just a Trump phenomenon. Republicans are committed to limiting the power of the voters to keep their hold on power. And in turn, the fact that Republicans need to persuade a minority of the country to win allows them to become more radicalized, thus pushing them to dilute voters' power even more.

And since gutting the Voting Rights Act, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to act to preserve voting rights or increase access to the ballot. With Barrett on the bench, that attitude is almost certain to be further entrenched.