The move to denaturalize some citizens is just the latest in a larger drive by Republicans—led by key figures in the Trump White House—to preserve a white majority in American politics. At the state level, Republican lawmakers take steps to protect GOP districts, dampen voter turnout, and otherwise hinder participation, which raises the chances of Republican victories for Congress and the White House. In turn, Republicans in Washington nominate and confirm judges who give voter suppression the cover of law, giving incentive to new efforts at restriction and disenfranchisement. What Donald Trump brings is an explicit effort to write nonwhite immigrants out of the body politic, removing as many as possible and presenting the rest as a suspect class.
What came out of those victories was just as important as what produced them: an immediate effortto shrink the electorate by disadvantaging black and brown voters. In 2011, Republicans in Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin introduced and signed strict voter identification laws. Republicans in Ohio ended same-day voter registration, while those in Florida and Texas took steps to restrict voter registration drives. Georgia (along with Florida and Ohio) reduced early voting, and Iowa (along with Florida) made it harder for former felons to vote. After winning a “trifecta” in 2012, capturing the governor’s mansion and both legislative chambers, North Carolina Republicans made dramatic changes to public policy—slashing taxes and making deep cuts to state government—and then took dramatic steps to keep Democrats and Democratic constituencies from pushing back with an unprecedented sweep of voter restrictions. Striking down that law, a federal appeals court called it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow” and said it targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.”
In 2013, a conservative majority on the U.S Supreme Court—each member nominated by a Republican president—struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, all but freeing conservative lawmakers to go even further in pursuit of voter restrictions. In the aftermath of that ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, GOP-controlled states like Wisconsin pushed forward with changes and restrictions that had a measurable effect on the electorate. In Milwaukee, for example, 41,000 fewer votes were cast in 2016 than in 2012, a change that can’t be explained by a shrinking voting-age population. Donald Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes.
To compound their advantage, Republican lawmakers used their majorities for aggressive gerrymanders, packing Democratic voters into districts meant to dilute their electoral influence. In some states, this also means racial gerrymandering, to neutralize the influence of black and Latino voters.
These tactics amplify Republicans’ existing advantages. The party benefits from a structural bias toward rural counties and exurbs—where white Americans who support the GOP disproportionately live—and against urban centers and dense metropolitan areas. Where they’ve been successful, Republicans have effectively lowered the threshold they need to attain necessary majorities. Because of malapportionment, gerrymandering, and voter suppression, Republicans could lose the national popular vote in November by several percentage points and still retain a majority in the House of Representatives. That rural bias is even stronger in the Senate, where Republicans can win a majority of seats with a distinct minority of voters, thanks to equal representation and the large number of predominantly rural states.
In all of this, Donald Trump is less an instigator and more an accelerator. With strategic appeals to white racial prejudice, Trump took this well-distributed plurality of white voters and made it large enough to secure an Electoral College victory, taking the “minority rule” that already defines the federal legislature and extending it to the White House itself. The Republican Party, in turn, has followed the path of its state counterparts, using narrow but absolute majorities to pursue its ideological goals—upper-income tax cuts and attacks on the social safety net—while taking steps to engineer continued minority rule. Indeed, if Trump did anything unique, it was take the subtext of that engineering—we need to keep nonwhites from voting or otherwise limit their full participation—and made it explicit.
Donald Trump is more vulgar than John Roberts, but they’re both trying to accomplish the same thing.