Traditional Republican concerns—opposition to domestic spending and gender equality—have dominated the Republican presidential campaign thus far. But there are some new conservative fixations that will be important in the months to come. Generally, they have all been invented—much like opposition to an individual health insurance mandate—in reaction to President Obama’s moderate and generally successful policies and political strategies. Here’s a guide to five of them.
Election fraud: Ever since the paranoid fringe of the right, by which I mean most Republicans, convinced itself that ACORN stole the 2008 election, conservatives have been trying to pass laws to prevent voter fraud. Republican-controlled state legislatures all over the country are passing rules that risk disenfranchising large numbers of voters, especially the poor, minorities and people with disabilities. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC, earlier this month, Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former member of the Federal Elections Commission, told a panel what he thinks are “three best things your state can do to prevent voter fraud”: require presentation of a photo identification when voting, require proof of citizenship when someone registers to vote and “tighten up the rules on absentee ballots, so [for example] when you request an absentee ballot you have to put in a copy of your driver’s license.”
As Laura Murphy, Washington Legislative Officer of the ACLU noted Thursday at the National Press Club, “There is a long history of efforts to restrict the right to vote to gain partisan advantage.” Murphy says laws requiring proof of citizenship or photo identification at the polling place, along with restricting early voting or eliminating same day registration, are all examples of these Republican vote suppression tactics. People who lack mobility due to disability or inability to afford a car may be disenfranchised. “These anti-fraud laws are the real threat to our constitutional rights,” says Murphy.
Down with the EPA: Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the leading climate change denier in Congress, spoke at CPAC this year, the first time he has done so in five years. He proudly restated his famous assertion that climate change is the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” receiving big cheers.
What happened in the intervening years? Republicans flirted with reality. Their 2008 presidential nominee, John McCain, supported taking action against climate change. But Barack Obama won the election. As soon as he did, Republicans dropped their concern for the environment in favor of rigid partisan opposition. The energy magnate Koch brothers have largely funded the rise of the Tea Party movement and other current Republican campaigns, and the grateful beneficiaries in the new Republican Congress have introduced reams of legislation to repeal or prevent actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
It has become a conservative shibboleth, repeated by Republican presidential candidates on the campaign trail and at conferences such as CPAC and the Americans for Prosperity “Defending the American Dream” summit in November 2011 that the EPA is preventing economic and job growth. With Republican candidates promising that increased oil drilling would reduce rising gasoline prices, you can expect to hear a lot more of this argument in months to come.