The Republican Party, pundits have decided, now belongs to Trump, his hostile takeover complete. Scattered about the media landscape are the mea culpas of journalists and talking heads who predicted otherwise.
The new narrative is as misdirected as the old.
Hostile takeover? Someone needs to check with the billionaire Brothers Koch (wealthier than Trump) and their parallel organization that owns a huge chunk of the party. Political reporting has failed to concentrate on the power accruing to Tea Party Republicans and the Kochs’ network of reactionary billionaires.
Across the country, Republican governors and legislators are churning out laws extending the culture wars, enabling polluters and deepening economic inequality.
The gloomy predictions of Republican dispossession refer to a partisan juggernaut that since the 2010 midterm elections has taken complete control of 30 states and 66 of 99 legislative chambers.
In the last few cycles, it has reduced the number of states controlled by Democrats from 19 to seven, the lowest since the Civil War. Cassandras are sounding the death knell of a party sure to retain its majority in the House of Representatives at least to 2020.
In 2001, Republicans drew lines gerrymandering 98 congressional districts, a figure that rose to 193 by 2011. In 2020 their control of state legislatures, unless dramatically reduced, will ensure their hold on the House.
In 2012 as President Barack Obama won re-election, Democratic candidates secured 50.59 percent of the vote, or 1.37 million more than Republican, but won just 201 seats compared to Republicans’ 234, due to a combination of gerrymandering and Democratic votes “wasted” in urban districts.
Meanwhile, the Kochs and friends have assembled an unprecedented privatized political operation funded by hundreds of donors, employing 1,200 full-time, year-round staffers in over 100 offices throughout the country. This machinery dwarfs by more than three times employees of the Republican National Committee and its congressional campaigns.
The policy consequences at the state level have affected tens of millions for the worse. Since 2010, 22 states have passed voter-suppression laws, making it more difficult for minorities, the young, and elderly to vote. Dozens of laws have been passed easing restrictions on gun ownership and use; some western states have enacted gun laws that deliberately violate federal law. Already in 2016, 13 states have passed additional pro-gun legislation.
As Republicans gained control of previously Democratic or divided states in 2010 and 2014, waves of laws restricting abortions have followed. In the past five years, mostly red states have passed more restrictions on women’s ability to get an abortion than were passed in all the previous decade.
High on the Koch network’s agenda are laws weakening unions, and since 2012 five states have passed “right-to-work” laws bringing the total to 25, including such former bastions of unionism as Michigan and Wisconsin. The AFL-CIO calculates that workers in such states make $5,971 less per year than those in other states.
At the core of the Koch donor network are allies in the fossil fuel industry, as Jane Mayer pointed out in her recent book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. These interests have poured tens of millions into think tanks and organizations that exist primarily to fight climate reform.
The “Kochtopus,” as critics call the network, has also extended its influence into campuses. From 2005 to 2014 the Koch Foundation poured $110 million into colleges and universities to spread anti-government ideology and deny global warming, often with strings attached. Kentucky’s flagship university is a recent recipient.
The steady migration of the party to the extreme right has resulted in large part from purges of Republicans deemed insufficiently amenable to the Kochs’ libertarian agenda. The parallel power bases of the formal Republican Party and the billionaires’ privatized network are not going away, however The Donald fares.
Kentuckians are witnessing firsthand a Tea Party governor trying to roll back health insurance coverage for tens of thousands, cutting education funds, weakening worker safety, gutting consumer and environmental protection, siding with insurance companies denying benefits to low-income families.
This assault on Kentucky’s well-being also will continue whatever the result of the presidential election.
Ron Formisano, University of Kentucky professor of history emeritus, is author of “Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor.”