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When Republicans say 'we're fighting voter fraud,' they mean 'we're defrauding voters'

At another crossroads for their party, Republicans by and large are doubling down on their attacks on democracy.
Image: An elephant sits and blocks a voting line
Lying to take away voting rights should be called out for what it is.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

The last month should really be inspiring a series of "look at your life, look at your choices" moments for the Republican Party writ large. It would be a nice change of pace from the weeks of flailing we've seen from elected officials and party luminaries. But instead of searching their souls, Republicans around the country are doubling down on the lies and attacks on democracy that got us here in the first place.

Remember the last time a Republican nominee lost the White House? Back then, the Republican National Committee cranked out a 100-page "election autopsy" to examine what went wrong with Mitt Romney's candidacy and how to prevent it from happening again.

There were some pretty sensible ideas in that report, including how to improve messaging beyond the GOP base ("The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself") and outreach to minorities ("If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity").

But then Donald Trump declared himself a candidate just over two years later, grabbed the ideas in that report by the metaphorical head and proceeded to smash them against a very large rock, convincing his fellow Republicans that actually, going all in on core constituencies is a good idea.

GOP lawmakers are picking up the ball and running with it, continuing to lie to their constituents to crack down on voting rights.

A new version of the 2013 autopsy might well recommend that Republicans, among other things, go back to promoting democracy as a core belief. But given how deeply invested the Republican National Committee of 2020 is in pumping out Trump's lies about election fraud and the willingness of more than half of Republican members of the House to sign onto a lawsuit to overturn the election's results, I don't think it would somehow get through to any more people than the last attempt.

Trump was met with zero resistance as he systematically laid the groundwork over the last nine months for his claims that the election was rigged. Instead, he got support from Republicans at all levels of government. Several standouts in the party correctly said not only that the vote was fair, but also that it ran much more smoothly than had been predicted. For their heresy, they have been ostracized and threatened.

I argued ahead of Election Day that Nov. 3 would mark the start of a new war on voting rights — and I was more correct than I'd expected. Rather than separating themselves from Trump's lies as November fades into memory, GOP lawmakers are picking up the ball and running with it, continuing to lie to their constituents to crack down on voting rights.

Trump's attacks on mail-in ballots, which everyone who is an expert on voting said were false, have become an excuse for new restrictions on voters — particularly Black and brown voters. Michigan legislators are reported to be looking into overturning the ballots of the two-thirds of the state's voters who approved a 2018 initiative allowing no-excuse absentee ballots. In Pennsylvania, election bills are being prepped that The New York Times says are designed "to stiffen identification requirements for mail ballots, tighten standards for signature matching and, in one case, to repeal the law that allows anyone to vote absentee without an excuse."

Meanwhile, Georgia is proving to be a testing ground for this new assault in the run-up to the state's Senate runoff elections in January. Republicans are already prepping a slew of measures to make voting more difficult. That includes a proposal to required voter ID for absentee ballots, which gave me a headache when I tried to consider how that might actually work. Already, 4 of the 10 most populous counties in Georgia are rolling back the number of early voting locations that will be available.

Lest you think this is limited to state lawmakers, national Republicans are in on the act, too. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich weighed in on Twitter, taking aim as so many others have at Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican who has said repeatedly that there was no systemic voter fraud in Georgia.

We shouldn't be at all surprised, though. It wasn't Trump who first put this instinct into Republicans' heads. The current morass is built upon years of tapping into, as Adam Serwer noted at The Atlantic, a belief among the Republican base "that Democratic victories do not count, because Democratic voters are not truly American." The result has been decades of legislation that makes it more difficult for Americans, especially minorities, to vote. Even Raffensperger, who's become a hero of the last election, backs the idea that voters should somehow show ID to vote by mail.

About the only upside I can offer from this mess is that now we no longer have to take Republican lies about preventing voter fraud seriously.

Without the protections of the Voting Rights Act, and supported by a glut of newly appointed judges, federal courts have been fine with states' making it harder and harder to vote.

One of the authors of the GOP's autopsy report told NPR in 2016 that she hoped "Trump will lose in November, Republicans will lose the Senate, and the GOP will be forced to rebuild with conservatives focused on the power of ideas." That clearly didn't happen. And though Trump may have lost last month and the Senate might still flip in January, it doesn't seem any more likely that the Republican Party will stop filling its supporters' heads with garbage.

Honestly, about the only upside I can offer from this mess is that now we no longer have to take Republican lies about preventing voter fraud seriously. We can instead feel free to call them out for what they are: a way to keep as many people from voting as possible.