The WA GOP put it in writing that they’re not into democracy

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Political forecasters called it that the state Republican convention would feature turmoil ending in endorsements of the most extreme candidates, all to match the party’s current MAGA mood.

Among the jilted was the Republican front-runner for governor, former Sheriff Dave Reichert, who was left putting out an APB for the GOP.  

“The party’s been taken hostage,” he told The Spokesman-Review.

But there was another strain to the proceedings last weekend that didn’t get much attention. Political conventions are often colorful curiosities; this one took a darker turn.

The Republican base, it turns out, is now opposed to democracy. Their words, not mine, as you’ll soon see.

After the candidates left, the convention’s delegates got down to crafting a party platform. Like at most GOP gatherings in the Donald Trump era, this one called for restrictions on voting. In Washington state, the delegates called for the end of all mail-in voting. Instead, we would have a one-day-only, in-person election, with photo ID and paper ballots, with no use of tabulating machines or digital scanners to count the ballots. All ballots would be counted by hand, by Trappist monks.

OK, I made up the monk part. I did not make up the part about banning the use of machines to count votes. All in all it would make voting less convenient and harder, by rolling it back at least half a century.

But then the convention veered into more unexpected anti-democratic territory.

A resolution called for ending the ability to vote for U.S. senators. Instead, senators would get appointed by state legislatures, as it generally worked 110 years ago prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913.

“We are devolving into a democracy, because congressmen and senators are elected by the same pool,” was how one GOP delegate put it to the convention. “We do not want to be a democracy.”

We don’t? There are debates about how complete of a democracy we wish to be; for example, the state Democratic Party platform has called for the direct election of the president (doing away with the Electoral College). But curtailing our own vote? The GOPers said they hoped states’ rights would be strengthened with such a move.

Then they kicked it up a notch. They passed a resolution calling on people to please stop using the word “democracy.”

“We encourage Republicans to substitute the words ‘republic’ and ‘republicanism’ where previously they have used the word ‘democracy,’ ” the resolution says. “Every time the word ‘democracy’ is used favorably it serves to promote the principles of the Democratic Party, the principles of which we ardently oppose.”

The resolution sums up: “We … oppose legislation which makes our nation more democratic in nature.”

It wasn’t that long ago when Republican presidents would extol democracy as America’s greatest export. Or sometimes try to share it with others down the barrel of a gun (see George W. Bush, Iraq).

Now the party is saying they don’t even want to hear the d-word anymore.

Of course we are not donning togas and rushing down to the acropolis to vote on legislation. So it’s true we don’t often act as a direct democracy (initiatives and referendums being exceptions).

It’s a hybrid system, a representative democracy, with the people periodically voting for elected leaders to do that legislating work for us. During much of our lifetimes the debate in this arena has been: How can representative democracy be made more representative? How can more voices be heard?

It’s jarring to hear a major political party declare that they’re done with that. They’re not even paying it lip service. You can’t get any blunter than “we oppose making our nation more democratic.”

Not everyone at the convention agreed with those sentiments, though they were strongly outvoted. Some of the delegates seemed to have contempt for voting and voters — at least when they come out on the losing end of it.

“The same people who select the baboons in Olympia are the ones selecting your senators,” said one delegate in remarks to the convention hall.

A party platform is a statement of principles; it has little to no chance of being implemented. So it’s tempting to ignore it. Or wish it away, as Reichert is trying to do, by suggesting the real party is out there somewhere having been abducted by impostors.

When people say “democracy itself is on the ballot” in this election, though, I think this is what they’re talking about.

For years now, since Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election, some Republicans have been on the defensive about charges they’re flirting with anti-democratic impulses or authoritarianism.

A while back, this newspaper ran an Op-Ed from a leading conservative, the editor of the National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru. He argued that despite Trump’s attempts to block the transfer of power, and the party largely backing him up on that, the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. It’s become a myth that Democrats hold about Republicans, he suggested. It’s similar, he argued, to the misconceptions Republicans have that Democrats are committing mass election fraud.

“Republicans aren’t against democracy,” was the headline of that Op-Ed.

Well a few years have passed, and now they’re putting it in writing.

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