David Lewis does not like to be criticized. Annoy him online and he’ll accuse you of scatological sympathies. Call his policies racist and he “deeply resents” it. Those who critique his Voter ID amendment will encounter the same wounded howls of umbrage. But this isn’t just a David Lewis story. It’s a Phil Berger story, and a Justin Burr story–and a Jesse Helms story.
Republicans face a grim midterm. Trump is “historically unpopular,” which should intensify the backlash that always faces first-term presidents. Congressional Republicans are pushing a toxic health bill, liberal passions are aroused like never in the last four decades, and swing voters are fed up. All this suggests Republicans will suffer a significant turnout deficit.
Southern conservatives know what to do–inflame racial passions. Humanity are a tragically tribal lot, and Dixie reactionaries have never had any qualms with activating these dark impulses. Today’s NCGOPers plan to do exactly that by rallying white people to disenfranchise minorities (Lewis’s Voter ID amendment) permanently restrict fiscal policies that seem to benefit African-Americans (a TABOR amendment), and stoking fear of a third Other, labor unions (Burr’s RTW amendment). Lewis and Burr, with the near-certain blessing of Berger’s Senate, plan to heighten and exploit black-white tension. Because otherwise they will lose the election.
We have seen this many times before, never more infamously than in Jesse Helms’s scandalous “Hands” ad. Optimists felt that the Republicans had left those tactics behind them. But that was naive. The virulent politics of Jesse Helms is inscribed in the DNA of the North Carolina Republican Party. There’s a reason counties have replaced Lincoln Dinners with Helms Days. And twenty years those same Hands are back to strangle our social unity.
This means that 2018 will be a significant moral test for the state. Racial demagoguery saved Helms’ career in a midterm long ago. We will see whether the same tactics save a new generation of reactionaries.