Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 5
April 5, 2021 (Monday)
For people sick of news, there is nothing happening that cannot wait, so tonight’s letter is a good one to skip.
Otherwise, there are lots of developing stories today. Top of the list is the story of Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is implicated in what appears to be a significant sex scandal involving underage girls.
Running a close second is the story Shane Goldmacher at the New York Times broke this weekend: in the closing days of the 2020 election season, the Trump campaign scammed supporters out of more than $122 million by tricking them into “recurring” donations. The campaign had to refund those donations after the election, and it apparently did so by using money raised after the election by asking for funds to challenge the election results. In effect, supporters unknowingly made a no-interest loan to the campaign.
Today’s overarching story is connected to this one. It is the same as yesterday’s big story, and the day before that, reaching on backward until the 2020 election. Republican Party leaders continue to insist, without evidence, that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election and that Democrats stole it from him through voter fraud. A new Reuters/Ipsos found that six in ten Republicans believe this Big Lie.
This falsehood has been rejected by bipartisan election officials and the courts, including the Supreme Court, but in 43 states Republican legislators are using it to justify election laws that will make it significantly harder to vote.
Those new laws have met with significant pushback, leaving Republicans scrambling to argue that the laws actually make it easier to vote, not harder. This is not true. Former Wall Street Journal correspondent Douglas Blackmon wrote a tremendously clear thread on Twitter spelling out how the Georgia law, for example, makes it illegal for Georgia voting officials to send absentee applications to each voter, and makes it harder to get absentee ballots. It eliminates most drop boxes for ballots, as well, and makes it harder for working people to vote. Blackmon says the law’s “intent seems to be causing much longer & slower lines at the polls, which… will mean large numbers of working class, elderly, and sick voters who just give up and go home.”
The passage of a new voter suppression law in Georgia has opened up a rift between Republican lawmakers and corporations, which in the past have been firmly in the Republican camp. After all, Republicans hailed the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned election restrictions that had been in place for more than a century and permitted corporations to spend unlimited amounts on elections. The justices argued that corporations and other groups had a right to spend money under the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
Now that corporations are taking a stand against the Georgia election law, Republicans are no longer so keen on corporate free speech. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long advocated the use of big money for his political causes and who in 2020 got the most money from the nation’s top chief executive officers, today issued a statement calling the corporations who oppose the Georgia election law bullies. He said: “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.”
McConnell’s sudden turn against corporate political speech is not as counterintuitive as it seems. He wants corporate support in general, of course, but he also appears to need corporate money to fend off a revolt in his caucus. While corporations got cold feet about the Republicans after the January 6 coup and the refusal of 147 Republican lawmakers to count the certified ballots for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, small donors turning out for Trump’s Big Lie made up for the lost corporate money. Now, as corporations stand against the Trump wing of the party in Georgia, it appears the power in the party is shifting away from McConnell’s corporate wing and toward Trump followers who like the extremists promising to continue fighting the culture wars.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is similarly struggling with his conference as far-right representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) try to use procedural tools to snarl congressional operations, turning every last House operation into a partisan fight.
While Democrats are pushing quite popular legislation, Republicans are shifting toward lawmakers who are not only aiming a wrecking ball at Congress, but also are facing one of the biggest sex scandals in a generation and one of the biggest funding scandals ever.
It’s no wonder McConnell is unhappy.