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Democracy for Republicans

There’s a really good essay by Jacob T. Levy (Professor of Political Theory at McGill University) over at the Niskanen Center today in which he argues that the Republican Party needs to renew its commitment to democracy. “One sign of seriousness” of a post-Trump Republican Party, says Levy, “would be a commitment to building a Republican Party that can win free and fair elections, a Republican Party whose strategy rests on appealing to pluralities or majorities and that can embrace more voters rather than fewer.”

Levy goes on to document how over the past 30 years, both at the federal and state level, Republicans have frequently failed to win a plurality of the popular vote and yet still have held majorities in legislative bodies. The Republican Party, says Levy,

…is now the beneficiary of all the countermajoritarian mechanisms that make it difficult to translate voting pluralities or majorities into electoral wins, including those that were deliberate creations of constitutional design, those that evolved more or less accidentally, and those that were opportunistically engineered in recent decades. It is moreover the beneficiary of actions that selectively suppress voter turnout and eligibility to vote. Democrats more often than not command popular-vote pluralities even though many Democratic-leaning voters are discouraged or prohibited from getting to the ballot box at all.

Levy argues that the longstanding conservative suspicion of majoritarian democracy is based more on the Founders’ understanding of classical, zero-sum Roman economic precedents, and that such a system is poorly equipped to handle modern commercial capitalism. And while that conservative suspicion is often justified by an argument that the mob will just vote for socialism to line their own pocketbook (as if the elites aren’t also voting for their pocketbooks?), Levy argues that position is unjustified by history.

While there have been deeply despotic socialist regimes in modernity, these have almost never come about through the domestic subversion of democratic governments; they have been imposed by external military domination or else have replaced domestic oligarchic autocracies of one type or another. The fear of the redistributionist mob exercises a powerful hold on the conservative imagination, and has often served as an excuse for repression and constitutional violation. But we should understand that excuse as an excuse.

It’s a long essay and worth reading in its entirety. While I’m not personally likely to support most of the Republican Party ideals regardless of their political strategy, I’m fully on board w/ Levy’s conclusion:

It would be good, in other words, to have a competition in the direction of freer, fairer, and more open-access elections, with competing ideas about what that means and what to prioritize. That’s compatible with making an issue out of instances of Democratic misconduct that themselves call for future-oriented, general, rule-governed remedies. But it means not an agenda based on fake panic about nonexistent undocumented-immigrant voting or almost nonexistent voter fraud, not an agenda about dressing up restriction as reform. I am not sure that there are currently any powerful Republicans who are willing to try to take part in those debates, Republicans who are willing to embrace the goal of building a party that can win pluralities and majorities of freer and more open elections. I am sure that it will be a good sign when there are.

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