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.
Keep out the immigrants: Republicans and conservatives typically claim that their concern about immigration from Mexico is in no way racially motivated; it’s supposedly all about border security. But when conservatives speak to each other, they sometimes admit the truth: they’re afraid that more Latinos will mean a diminution of the cultural and political power of non-Latino whites. “After Obamacare, immigration is the most important issue [in this campaign], otherwise the whole country goes the way of California and we never win again,” Ann Coulter told CPAC.
When I interviewed anti-immigration leader and former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo in South Carolina last month, he was even more blunt. “Santorum has actually taken a step in the right direction, and did so in a pretty gutsy way, by saying we need to reduce legal immigration,” said Tancredo, when I asked why he hasn’t endorsed Romney, as he did after dropping out in 2008. “One of the biggest problems with immigration today is lack of assimilation…. we are trying to actually stop [assimilation]. All the crap about multiculturalism is just that, crap.”
Tancredo’s sentiments were echoed at an anti-multiculturalism CPAC panel that featured notorious xenophobes such as Peter Brimelow, with a guest appearance by Representative Steve King (R-IA).
Obama is bad for Israel: “If you want to see how to treat an ally, look at how Obama has treated Israel and do the opposite,” declared former UN Ambassador John Bolton at CPAC, to big applause. “He has pressured Israel mercilessly not to attack Iran.” The presupposition that it would be in Israel’s interest to attack Iran is debatable at best, but it’s one that conservatives share.
Obama’s position on the Middle East peace process has been no less favorable to Israel than his predecessors’, including George W. Bush. But Republicans have been attacking him repeatedly for imaginary infractions, such as supposed rudeness to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They also complain that Obama called for a two-state solution that begins with the pre-1967 borders with land swaps to follow. This has always been US policy, but that hasn’t stopped Republican presidential candidates from complaining that Obama “failed to stand for Israel.”
This is, of course, all about politics rather than Israel’s security. Evangelical Zionists want Israel to steal the entire West Bank and eject its Arab residents to fulfill a biblical prophecy. By supporting Israeli expansionism, Republicans are hoping to excite that element of their base and, if possible, win over a few Jewish votes in Florida. It also helps keep Sheldon Adelson’s money flowing.
Obama kowtows to America’s enemies. Given that Obama has done a much better job than Bush of finding and executing members of Al Qaeda, Republicans will have a hard time painting Obama as weak on national defense. But they’re trying to find a way. Since Obama has been more effective at taking out the organizations and regimes that have actually attacked the United States than President Bush was, Republicans are reviving the cold war menace from China and Russia, and fear-mongering about Iran.
Bolton and National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, among others, repeated this theme frequently at CPAC. “The Obama administration has forgotten that American strength is not provocative to our enemies, American weakness is,” said Bolton, “and Obama specializes in that…. What are we doing about Russia and China? Zip.” Specifically, Republicans such as Romney complain that Obama has failed to confront China for manipulating the yuan. They also argue that Obama was mistaken to try to sooth tensions with Iran and Russia, and that those efforts have gone unrewarded. While some of the specific accusations may be debatable, the overall theme—that Obama is endangering American security through cowardice—is preposterous. But since Republicans equate foreign policy strength with boisterous swagger, it’s fair to assume they actually believe it.