The situation today reflects the worst tendencies of the pre-Trump era in extreme form. Trump didn’t invent most of what is central to his appeal; he says the ugliest, once-whispered parts out loud. And responsible Republicans who see how dangerous Trumpism is find themselves hamstrung because so many of his claims are already familiar to the party’s base.
Recall, for example, the scandal during the George W. Bush administration over the firing of federal prosecutors who resisted pressure to bring voter-fraud cases.
Their resistance was not surprising since, as Henderson observed, “arguments about voter fraud have no basis in fact” and fraud claims have a long, sorry history, dating to the violent backlash against Black enfranchisement during Reconstruction.
But as the New York Times reported in 2007, the “fraud rallying cry became a clamor in the Florida recount after the 2000 presidential election,” even as Republican lawmakers elsewhere voiced “similar accusations of compromised elections.” Bush’s attorney general announced that voter fraud would be high on his agenda.
The effort “backfired badly,” the Brennan Center for Justice reported. “The Justice Department was upended by scandal because it had pursued a partisan agenda on voting, under the guise of rooting out suspected ‘voter fraud,’ ” the center concluded. “Its actions during the George W. Bush administration were well outside the bounds of rules and accepted norms of neutral law enforcement.”