But this time, unlike the days of Coolidge and Hoover, that dominance was highly artificial.
The Republican Party’s signature issue, under the Senate leadership of McConnell and the House leadership of Paul Ryan, was the repeal of the Affordable Care Act—a priority supported by only 35 percent of Americans in 2014 and opposed by 60 percent.
The McConnell-Ryan instinct to cut taxes for corporations and upper-income people was even more unpopular. In 2016, 67 percent of Americans favored some kind of additional tax on millionaires.
The party’s stance on social issues was likewise out of date. By 2011, more Americans favored than opposed same-sex marriage; support for same-sex marriage passed the 50 percent mark in 2014, and surpassed 60 percent in 2017.
Nor were the McConnell-Ryan Republicans really much in the way of vote-winners. Less than 37 percent of those eligible showed up to vote in the big Republican year of 2014, the lowest percentage since 1942. Turnout was especially low in the states where Republicans did best: less than 30 percent in Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas, for example.
Where the Republicans excelled was in converting votes into seats. In 2014, the almost 10 million people of North Carolina cast 2.9 million votes in House elections. Republicans won that vote by a margin of 321,337, or 11 percent. They converted that margin into control of 10 of the state’s 13 House seats.
The secret of Republican success in the 2010s was not votes, but maps and rules. Republicans scored their big comeback election in 2010, a census year. That allowed state-level Republicans to redraw maps in 2011 to favor their own party. That redrawing occurred at a time when a conservative federal judiciary was stepping back from oversight of voting processes.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand an Indiana law requiring photo ID for would-be voters. The decision was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, at the time one of the court’s leading liberals. It was written in hedged, balancing language denying that any big change was being instituted. “On the basis of the record that has been made in this litigation, we cannot conclude that the statute imposes ‘excessively burdensome requirements’ on any class of voters.”
For the new Republican state governments elected in 2010, however, Stevens’s opinion in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board flashed a green light to experiment with ways to discourage voting by unwanted voters. And those experiments accelerated after the Supreme Court struck down important elements of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
Adam Serwer: The Supreme Court is helping Republicans rig elections
A series of interlocking barriers to voter registration secured the Republican majority in Georgia in the squeaky-tight 2018 election. Georgia purges voters from its rolls if their name on the voting-registration list does not exactly match their name in other state records. Even a missing or excess hyphen can trigger a purge. Purged voters face strict deadlines to correct their status. Brian Kemp, the person in charge of the purge in the 2010s, ran for governor in 2018—and won in an election marked by widespread disqualification.