Lately, I’m reminded of the apocryphal story about how Alexander the Great once wept because there were “no more worlds to conquer.” It seems quite fitting for today’s Alabama Republican Party.
Alexander, so the story goes, was moved to tears once he defeated whichever army was last on his list. This particular army may have been right on the edge of the Earth that was still very much flat at the time, so Alexander’s army had nowhere else to go. Al was still a young man with years of work left before he would be vested in the Macedonian Retirement System, and he was saddened by the thought of having to find some kind of civil service job until he could start drawing a pension.
He died young, so there’s no telling what kind of trouble he might have gotten into as he tried to breathe meaning into a life rendered dull by the scarcity of opponents to hack up on the regular. He might eventually have even grown bored enough to peek over the edge of the Earth where there were more folks to kill, but he didn’t make it that far.
The Alabama GOP finds itself in much the same predicament. Clearly, the party is bored to death. Its adherents hold every statewide office, massive majorities in the Legislature and dominate local politics all the way down to dog catcher. If this was a boxing match, the Democrats would have been hauled off in a meat wagon long ago. They can’t put up even reasonably competitive candidates for most offices. It’s essentially like pre-Buster Douglas Mike Tyson fighting a toddler.
But like Alexander, conquering the world isn’t enough for the state GOP. Last week, the Republican Party State Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly — 81 percent — in favor of closing primaries to allow only registered party members to vote. It’s still left up to the State Legislature — the vast majority of whom are Republicans — to clear up all the details and pass a law that will effectively disenfranchise many of us. But it could happen.
To put it more simply, if you generally vote in the Republican primaries either because they’re the only ones that matter or because you tend to align more with conservatives, you’d no longer be welcome to do so without first joining the GOP club.
All of this is fascinating when you view it through the lens of GOP dominance in Alabama. Why change the game when you always win? Because the right kinds of Republicans aren’t always winning.
Remember how the state’s Republican Party lost its mind earlier this summer when Auburn City Councilor Jay Hovey defeated incumbent Sen. Tom Whatley by a single vote? Whatley was clearly the party’s choice and they tried several ways to find that extra vote for him, going so far as to try to use a provisional ballot from an unregistered voter.
They were finally embarrassed into “stopping their steal,” and Hovey was declared the winner and Republican nominee. But there was great anger at ALGOP when some liberals openly claimed they’d voted for Hovey in hopes of defeating Whatley.
The rabid Trumpists who now control the party can’t stand watching these so-called “RINO Republicans” win a few races. What brings tears to the ALGOP Executive Committee’s eyes is the thought of a Republican holding office who doesn’t buy Trump’s BS about the election being stolen or doesn’t wake up each day and pray towards Mar-a-Lago.
They’re wound up because non-Republicans went to the polls and voted for the more moderate candidates. ALGOP leaders want a pure, homogenized slate of candidates who all believe the same thing and put Trumpism above state and country.
So now, in a state where the primary runoffs saw about 13 percent turnout in the recent runoffs, the brain trust at ALGOP wants to ratchet that number down even farther. It’s the height of arrogance and an anathema to anyone who thinks we ought to be encouraging more voting.
I always vote in the Republican primaries, not because I’m a member of either party, but because I recognize the GOP’s dominance essentially makes their primaries the de-facto general election. It’s where the action is. What happens in November is a coronation, not an election.
So if ALGOP gets its way, people like me — people who aren’t interested in party politics — will have few choices. Either become a member of a party led by people who are part of Donald Trump’s cult of personality, or vote in a primary full of candidates who have no chance of winning.
Perhaps the rule of unintended consequences will come into play here. Maybe more moderate people will actually join the Republican Party and eventually get rid of the zealots who currently run the show. It’s a nice thought, but the more likely scenario is that it will just depress voting even more and the number of people who think it’s all a waste of time will increase.
The door might be cracked open for a third party to make some noise, but that would require people not flocking to the Republican nominees in the general elections. This is also the most difficult state in the country for third-party candidates to gain ballot access, so there’s another hurdle.
Expect more unhinged candidates if this comes to pass, as they will only have to play to the more hardcore party base. They’ll all have to pass the litmus test of swearing allegiance to Trump and the Big Lie before cruising into a general election against whatever token candidates the Democrats can convince to head out to the firing squad.
I’d like to think there’s some modicum of respect for those of us who don’t want to join a political party and don’t particularly think either the donkeys or elephants mirror our views, and that members of the Legislature will stop this. But I know there will be tremendous pressure applied by that 81 percent of the Executive Committee in favor of this.
One indignity we shouldn’t have to suffer is paying for a closed primary. If Republicans want to have a private primary, they should buy their own voting machines — what am I saying?! No voting machines! — and pay to use public buildings to hold their elections. No freeloading off the taxpayers, ALGOP!
Really though, if they’re going to push it this far, they might as well go all the way over the edge and just let the Executive Committee pick the winners. It may be the only thing that will ultimately make them happy.
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