The care and feeding of the Republican base

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is targeting what it believes are among the most vulnerable Democratic U.S. senators up for reelection next year, one of whom is Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock. NRSC ad screengrab

The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched its first televised attack ads against what it believes are among the most vulnerable Democratic U.S. senators up for reelection next year, one of whom is Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto. (The others, for the record, are Arizona’s Mark Kelly, Georgia’s Raphael Warnock, and New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan).

Cortez Masto and the rest of the Democrats in Congress just passed a $1.9 trillion relief bill. Even when adjusted for inflation, the bill dwarfs emergency public assistance legislation passed during the administration of either Barack Obama or Franklin Roosevelt. The bill Joe Biden signed into law this month is broadly considered the most ambitious and far-reaching piece of domestic legislation of the last 50 years. And not a single Republican voted for it.

So naturally the NRSC’s very first ad on its quest to regain Republican control of the Senate attacks Cortez Masto and her Democratic colleagues for … protecting the right of Americans to vote.

Instead of going after the relief bill, which is sending people money, expanding social programs, and starting new ones, the NRSC is attacking the voting rights bill. That measure, already passed by the House as H.R. 1 and now in the Senate as S.B. 1, would protect and expand voting rights from Republican assaults. If signed into law, it would nullify the racist voter suppression tactics recently enacted in Georgia and being pushed by Republicans in several other states. The bill does a lot of other nice things, too, such as requiring U.S. presidents to refrain from using the presidency as a personal ATM, and release their tax returns.

The NRSC doesn’t highlight those parts of the voting rights bill. Instead, the ads complain the bill would “eliminate voter ID laws.”

Cortez Masto’s constituents can be excused if their top priorities do not include the purported peril of eliminating Nevada’s voter ID law, since Nevada doesn’t have one. (Nevada Republicans in the Legislature have always wanted one but they’ll fail to get it yet again this year.)

The NRSC ad also asserts S.B. 1 will let Democrats “use your tax dollars to fund their political ads.”

You know who used your tax dollars to fund his political ads? Ronald Reagan.

From 1976 until 2008, the most notable example of publicly financed campaigns were those of every single Democratic and Republican presidential nominee. That came to a halt when Republican appointees on the Supreme Court threw open the floodgates so the rich and corporate could pump as much money as they liked, which was a lot, into shady outside groups, effectively rendering public financing for presidential campaigns a guaranteed losing proposition.

Public financing of campaigns is also something that is already done in several states (but not Nevada, sniffle), in the hope of reducing the influence of deep-pocketed special interests, or as one recent public figure might have referred to them, the swamp.

The NRSC’s ad uses the phrase “stop the grab” and “stop the fraud.” It’s not clear whether the voter ID part is “the grab” and the public financing part is “the fraud,” or vice versa. Not that it matters. The important thing about saying “stop the grab” and “stop the fraud” is the phrases are reminiscent of the battle cry shrieked by the violent insurrections of January 6, “stop the steal.” The NRSC is milking the big lie to feed the base.

Republicans say their polling shows the voter ID and public financing parts of the voting rights bill really gin up the GOP base, according to Axios, which first reported the NRSC’s ad buy.

Sounds legit. Any component of any legislation that promises to stop people from voting, especially people who aren’t Republican and white, is destined to poll well with today’s Republican base, which despises democracy.

As the NRSC moves into the 2022 cycle, it can take some comfort in historical precedent: The party that doesn’t control the White House almost always scores big wins in a new president’s first midterm election. So maybe Adam Laxalt or whatever “Stop the Steal” celebrity the Nevada GOP puts up against Cortez Masto can bang that anti-democracy drum all the way to victory.

Rick Scott, the Republican Senator from Florida who heads the NRSC, put out a statement Thursday accompanying the release of the ads. “Senator Cortez Masto will have a lot of explaining to do over the next two years and a lot to answer for in 2022,” Scott said.

It’s difficult to know exactly how large the voting rights bill will loom as a campaign issue in an election for which early and mail-in voting won’t start for (checks calendar) 19 months. 

But assuming civilization isn’t transformed between now and then by artificial intelligence, interstellar visitors, or a virus, there’s little doubt some of the issues on the table today will be on voters’ minds in late October and early November of 2022.

So Scott’s right. Cortez Masto will have to explain why she voted to give Nevada families $250 to $300 per child each month in what might be the greatest single piece of anti-poverty legislation in U.S. history.

And Republicans are going to have to explain some things too, such as why giving water to Georgia voters standing in line should be a crime, and January 6.