A vote in the United States Senate to end debate on S1 failed this week on a 50-50, party-line vote. But this is not a victory for voting integrity. It is part of a carefully choreographed plan to federalize our elections.
The key character in the drama is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. His job is to give the impression of a moderate seeking compromise. This means he has to start by objecting to S1 as too extreme and partisan. He wrote an op-ed on the subject two weeks ago. Now he will make a show of looking for a “middle path” that every “reasonable” person can agree on—like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which he referred to in his op-ed.
The key provision, both in S1 and in the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, is federal veto power over state election law. If the democrats can make that concept seem normal, and cast the Republicans as rejecting any form of compromise, they can give Manchin the excuse he needs to join Senate Democrats in ending the filibuster and ramming this legislation through.
An op-ed by Ezra Klein in last week’s New York Times says everything you need to know in the title: “Maybe Joe Manchin Knows Exactly What He’s Doing.” Predictably, everything in the op-ed itself is wrong—Ezra Klein analyzes the situation and decides that Joe Manchin is an endless believer in compromise and bipartisanship. That is false. But Joe Manchin does know exactly what he’s doing.
The “For the People Act,” S1 in the Senate, is the dream list of everything the Democrats would do to election law if they had the chance. And it isn’t pretty. But here’s the secret: Democrats do not care about most of that bill. They care about one provision, and one provision only: Federal control over state election law. If they can get that passed, nothing else matters—because no election outcome will ever be in doubt again. It means the repeal of all state-level anti-fraud laws. That is the core of S1.
Ironically, that is also the core of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, in the form of “federal pre-clearance.” Pre-clearance, as True the Vote outlined in last-week’s newsletter, is an elegantly simple mechanism for repealing all state election integrity laws, and preventing the passage of any new ones: It requires state election laws to be approved by the Department of Justice. It gives the federal government veto power over everything from signature matching to deregistering dead voters.
The Democrats will sacrifice everything they’ve packed into S1 for the sake of federalizing elections. In fact, they intended to sacrifice everything they’ve packed into S1 for the sake of federalizing elections. Every other provision in the bill is designed to be offered up on the altar of compromise (or fake compromise), so at the end of the day the Democrats can say: “Look, Republicans, we’ve given up everything we wanted. We even support voter ID now! And you guys won’t even compromise on federal election oversight. Very well, we’ll have to do it without you.”
This whole sham is playing out for your benefit—that is, for the benefit of you, the American voter. It is still important what voters think, because this hasn’t passed yet. And at the moment it’s very, very important voters think that the federal control
of state election law is normal. It isn’t. It is unconstitutional—the Supreme Court struck down a key element of pre-clearance in 2013—but that was before the public got used to the idea. The Democrats realize that the crux of their entire war against election integrity is getting the public to accept that federalizing elections is normal and moderate. Federal oversight must be seen as the “compromise” the nation is looking for.
This isn’t an easy task, and it requires a cleverly plotted script, complete with a plausible actor being cast in the role of the reluctant hero. That actor is Joe Manchin. If his role seems simple, it actually requires great subtlety: His role is to appear to be convinced.
Joe Manchin, in this drama, has been selected by the Democrats to represent the mind of America. He needs to be seen as someone who earnestly wants the best for the country. Someone who rejects partisanship and seeks the middle path. He needs to be seen, in other words, as completely reasonable. So that, whatever Joe Machin ultimately decides to do, the American people will accept.
The play starts out with Machin being outraged over S1 and equally outraged over the idea of, say, ending the filibuster to cram a bill through the Senate without the 60 votes required to end debate. These are things he simply cannot support, because they are too “extreme.”
Putting on this act will subject Machin to the outrage of the Left, and Machin has to take it. He must appear to be someone who is blocking progressive reform. He will be hated by the Left, but only temporarily. Once this play is over, all will be forgiven, and Machin will be their hero.
Every single article trying to analyze what Machin is doing—including the Ezra Klein op-ed—is really trying to conceal what Machin is doing. The progressive handwringing and hating on Machin is part of the script.
The first sign of Machin’s impending “persuasion” was when he joined the rest of the Senate Democrats Wednesday this week in a party-line vote to end debate on S1. It looks like a small step, and that too is deliberate. Machin’s transition to supporting federalized elections must be gradual to be credible.
We know how this story ends: Manchin will embrace the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as a compromise alternative to S1, and he’ll support whatever procedural trick is necessary to get it passed—even if it means ending the filibuster to get it through.