Here’s Merriam-Webster on populism:
1: a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people especially, often capitalized : a member of a U.S. political party formed in 1891 primarily to represent agrarian interests and to advocate the free coinage of silver and government control of monopolies
2: a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people
Republicans are only being populist if we believe that the common people are white. Which, let’s be clear, is what Republicans want us to believe—but that in itself is something the media should be interrogating. Instead it’s being regurgitated on the regular, as also here from The New York Times: “It is a head-spinning new landscape for big companies, which are trying to appease Democrats focused on social justice, as well as populist Republicans who are suddenly unafraid to break ties with business.”
Stopping Black people from voting and generally discounting Black and brown people as somehow distinct from the common people may fit many historical models of populism, but if that’s the vein in which reporters are using it, they need to step back and explain that. Define their terms. If, however, they mean Republicans are representing or believing in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people, then that’s a whole other area where reporters need to explain themselves, because that means that reporters are discounting Black and brown people as distinct from the common people.
“The current fight focuses on the recently enacted voting overhaul in Georgia,” Marianna Sotomayor and Todd Frankel report. “Democrats contend it is an attempt by state Republicans to suppress the vote in minority communities and mount a partisan takeover of election administration by giving the legislature the power to name three seats on the five-member State Election Board, which is dominated by Republicans. GOP leaders have pushed back against the charges, arguing that the legislation will make it easier to cast a ballot by expanding voting hours, and they have accused Democrats, including Biden, of partisan-driven hyperbole.”
There can be no question that the Georgia law gives the legislature the power to name three seats on the State Election Board, and the Georgia legislature is dominated by Republicans, so … you do the math. And the people saying this are not just Democrats. They are also nonpartisan voting rights advocates.
Republicans, meanwhile, claim that their new law expands voting hours. In some counties, it does. Those are smaller, more rural counties. In larger counties—you know, the ones where most of the Democratic votes are—early voting time is unaffected. Voting at mobile locations is banned. The number of ballot drop boxes and their hours of availability are dramatically reduced. If, or should I say when, voting machines fail or voting is otherwise interrupted, the law makes it more difficult to extend voting hours. In other words, what Republicans say applies only in locations where it benefits them, yet here it’s presented as one side of an equal argument.
So why do Republicans think they can pick fights with everyone in sight, from Coca-Cola to Major League Baseball to Democrats to voting rights advocates? Well, it’s partly because they know they’ll get favorable treatment—in the form of both-sidesing—from the traditional media.