While the GOP may not be great shakes when it comes to governing, they sure know how to campaign. In 2012, they are deploying a potentially devastating strategy that, if it results in a Republican President and Congress, will achieve its long-held objective of permanently changing (if not eradicating), the "big three" social programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while locking in long-term tax cuts for the wealthy that will restrict future public policy by substantially reducing tax federal revenue.
Block the Vote. For a party that purports to revere the Constitution, Republicans sure have a funny way of showing it. Since 2010, a concerted effort has occurred at the state level to reduce access to the ballot, with a disproportionate impact of these policies affecting the young, minorities, and the elderly, in other words, key constituencies of the Democratic party. Coincidence? I doubt it. First, Republicans have passed Voter ID laws that require citizens to present a government approved (so much for "small" government) ID when voting. Seems trivial if you have had your driver's license since you were a teenager or can call your mom to fish out your birth certificate so you can get the necessary ID; however, many poor, elderly and minority voters do not. According to the Brennan Center, these restrictive policies have the potential to impact 5 million voters in 2012 (read more here: http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/voting_law_changes_in_2012/).
Second, limit the ability of third party organizations to register voters. Here, Florida was leading the way until a federal district court smacked it down a few weeks ago. Although voter registration has been a long standing tradition (it's even codified in the Voting Rights Act of 1965), by limiting their ability to operate, Republicans in states like Florida hope to discourage or eliminate altogether, work done by these groups. In this way, what is happening at the state level is simply an extension of the defunding of the bogeyman ACORN that Republicans successfully demonized based on a highly edited video that went viral (thanks in large part to right-wing media) back in 2009.
Finally, purge eligible voters off your rolls and make them prove their eligibility. Again, Florida is leading the way, but conservative "watch dog" groups are lobbying a number of other states (many of which are so called "swing states") to do the same thing (read more here: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/06/12/498039/gop-front-group-suing-states-to-force-voter-purges/). Taken together, Republicans are aggressively working to limit access to the voting booth and doing it in ways that will impact Democratic (and democratic) voters.
Super PACs. After the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the impact of wealthy donors on the political process has been profound. While we are expected to believe the lie that no "coordination" takes place between a candidate and his/her Super PAC, it is a distinction without a difference. Mitt Romney's Super PAC eviscerated every GOP contender with millions funneled to it by a small number of donors while Romney was able to marshal his more modestly raised resources to positive ads about himself. Nevermind that former Romney staffers work for Restore Our Future or that Romney, who claimed to have no knowledge of their advertising was able to rattle off, almost verbatim, one of their spots against Newt Gingrich, the ability of a candidate to divorce himself from the tactics of its Super PAC offer what the media like to call "plausible deniability."
More importantly, Super PACs offer the über rich an opportunity to avoid campaign finance laws and invest tens of millions of dollars into electing (or destroying) politicians. Sheldon Adelson can write a $10 million in an afternoon, something that requires thousands upon thousands of small dollar donations on the Democratic side. Moreover, because donors to Super PACs are overwhelmingly Republican, the GOP will have a quantitative advantage not just at the Presidential level, where Obama is likely to be the first President outspent by the opposition, but in key battleground states where a switch or two in the Senate may make the difference between another two years of obstruction or progress in public policy.
Right Wing Media Outlets. Back in 1988, Craig Fuller, who was then head of the Republican National Committee, was quoted in the Richard Ben Cramer's seminal work on Presidential campaigns What It Takes, that Republicans like to "work the refs" (media) to get more favorable coverage. In 2012, the Republicans have no need to work the refs, they have their own - the right wing media led by FOX News, the Wall Street Journal, and an alphabet soup of faux think tanks, blogs, websites and of course, talk radio, serve as an alternate universe that has untethered the GOP from the "reality based" world. No longer are facts objective, they are simply slanted talking points that dissemble and confuse. By the time anyone gets around to fact checking the lies, they have already made it across the world (both the physical and electronic). Even then, the fact checking becomes reductionist - it's "he said/she said" combined with beside the point - if you zealously believe in "death panels" or Obama's foreign birth, nothing will convince you otherwise.
If you don't think elections have consequences, consider that two of the three "legs" of this stool are the direct result of Supreme Court decisions - a 2008 decision (Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181) that upheld, by a 6-3 decision, Indiana's use of Voter ID laws. All the justices in the majority were appointed by Republican Presidents; and a far better known 2010 decision (Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 50), which opened the floodgates for unlimited spending by Super PACs. Here again, the 5-4 majority was made up entirely of Republican appointees.
What is more distressing for "little d" democracy though is that one of our two political parties is making an affirmative effort to limit democracy in ways that may not be as blunt as poll taxes and lynchings, but are likely to be equally effective. For every World War II veteran that is able to generate media coverage because Governor Rick Scott improperly took him off the rolls there are dozens of faceless citizens who simply give up or are denied their rights but don't fight back. When hundreds of millions of dollars are spent purposefully distorting opponents' records, unsophisticated Americans become more cynical about their government, even as they rely on it for everything from paved roads to clean drinking water. What began in 2000 with the "Brooks Brothers" revolt to stop Palm Beach county from counting its votes, continued with Diebold-contracted voting machines and now, after a crushing loss in 2008 to Barack Obama, a multi-faceted assault on the right of the people to exercise their Constitutional rights.
The dark genius of these Republican tactics is that not all of them have to work to be effective - if Rick Scott's ability to limit voter registration is not permitted, there's still the Voter ID law. If the ID law does not dissuade you, a carpet bombing of television ads, robo calls and direct mail will convince you to stay home because your candidate is a no good, foreign born, socialist. And even if these tactics don't work at the Presidential level, the amount of money wealthy businessmen like the Koch Brothers have to spend at ever other level of electoral politics is frightening. One Sheldon Adelson check would fund most gubernatorial races, let alone the smaller races in state assemblies and senates. What can't be accomplished directly at the federal level can always be targeted at the state level. If Obama wins, Republicans can opt for two more years of stonewalling and have their sugar daddies push their chips into the 2014 off year election or 2016. Republicans take the long view and are willing to lose a few battles if it means winning the war. And make no mistake, this is war without weapons, but instead of bodies piling up on a battlefield, the stakes are just the future of our country.