Unintended Consequences of Shelby?

by John Holbo on June 28, 2013

I’m not a big believer in ‘heighten the contradictions’. Too Lenin-meets-slatepitch. But I wonder to what extent the Shelby decision will prove disadvantageous for Republicans because the party will now pursue measures that are inconsistent with making any credible attempt to not be a regional, ethnocentric party. Because they have to at least try this new stuff, as a solution to the problem that demographics are shifting. But surely everyone is going to notice them doing that.

Maybe it will backfire, as voter discouragement measures seem to have backfired in 2012. Or maybe it will work, at least in the near term. Minorities will vote in smaller numbers. That will help Republicans. But it seems like doom for Republican moderates, hence death for tender green shoots of Republican moderation (were one to believe such a delicate blossom could ever compete with that hardiest of conservative perennials – the extremist spasm.) No Republican is allowed to call a fellow Republican a racist, obviously. That’s beyond the pale (no pun intended!) But that means no moderate Republican will be able to talk, critically, about what their fellow Republicans are going to be up to, thanks to Shelby. Because anything the least bit negative they say about anything Shelby has made possible will be construed as a charge of ‘racism!’ by other Republians. So the most ethnocentric elements of the party will loudly drag the rest quietly along for the rightward ride. But no one along for that ride is going to look moderate in the least. The overall optics are going to be terrible.

Read this column by Matt Lewis. It’s about immigration, not Shelby. But the dynamics are the same. Just apply Lewis’ discovery that dog-bites-man – yep, it happens – to the Shelby case. The Supreme Court has made it legal to do stuff you couldn’t do before. Hence there is a practical point to Republicans talking about doing that stuff. But the talk is going to get ugly. But no one on the right is allowed to notice it getting ugly. No one who aspires to office, anyway – even though this is precisely the same lot who most appreciate that you need to keep the ugly talk to a minimum. Lewis is a Rubio fan, and I can see him worrying: in 12 years, is it going to be possible to have a figure like Rubio in the party? Or will he have died the death of a thousand cuts from both sides. He will look to minority voters like a profile in putting up with increasing amounts of crap. (At best, it will be largely symbolic stuff, intended to signal to whites that Republicans think they’re still tops. At worst, it may be much worse than that. We’ll see.) Rubio-types will look to white Republicans like a liability waiting to happen. When is he finally going to call us racists, which will have the Times all over us in a New York minute, costing us more than all the good he ever did for us, in terms of minority outreach.

You might say this only affects Republicans in the regions affected by Shelby. But other Republicans will have to comment on it, and ‘it’s not my district’ isn’t going to sound very moderate to ticked off minority voters.

Going back to my first point: it’s too clever by half to argue that vote suppression measures will surely backfire, having the opposite of the intended effect. So let’s just ask: to what extent will Shelby discourage the Republican Party from mending its ways (by liberal lights, of course)?