How Republicans became anti-democratic

tags: democracy, Republicans

Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also a consulting editor at the University of Pennsylvania Press, a former contributing editor at The New Republic, and the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test.

As right-wing populism spreads across the Western world, some say we're witnessing a democratic rebellion of the people against an anti-democratic, technocratic, elitist establishment. In Europe, where the EU superimposes an often anti-democratic, transnational bureaucracy on top of national electorates, and where anti-Brussels populists have formed majority coalition governments with established center-right parties in several countries, this story has some plausibility.

But this isn't the situation in the United States. Despite what the anti-liberal right has told itself for decades and all the way down to the present, its positions are not supported by a majority of the electorate. On the contrary, Republican electoral victories are increasingly dependent on gaming the system, and especially its multitude of counter-majoritarian veto points, to bring about outcomes that would be unachievable using democratic means.

The result is the transformation of the Republican Party into a blatantly anti-democratic force.

As recently as a decade ago, conservatives had a strong, or at least plausible, case that a majority of Americans — a silent majority, perhaps, or maybe a distinctly moral majority — stood with and behind their political aims. Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984 with nearly 59 percent of the vote, after all.

George W. Bush experienced the first real sign of trouble ahead for the GOP, winning the presidency in 2000 with the help of two counter-majoritarian institutions (the Electoral College and the Supreme Court) while losing the popular vote with just under 48 percent, which was significantly lower than Democrat Bill Clinton managed to poll (49.2 percent) in a three-way race with Bob Dole and Ross Perot just four years earlier. ...

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