The term republican machine was first coined by American physician, educator, and signatory to the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Rush in the late 1700's. Rush believed that the purpose of the public school system in America should be to educate young people in the concepts and knowledge they would need to effectively participate in representative democracy. The idea was that by giving all citizens a thorough knowledge of the fundamentals of statecraft, they would be better "machines" in the operation of the Republic. Much of the curriculum in elementary school and middle school is tailored to fit this ideal, as are many subjects taught in high school (civics, for instance).

In a more contemporary sense, "the Republican machine" is a somewhat derisive term used to refer to the less palatable tactics of the Republican Party (note that all political parties do similar things: I'm just picking on the Republicans here and saving the Democratic machine for later). A fairly recent example of the modern Republican Machine at work was seen in the 2000 presidential election, when George W. Bush and Al Gore were neck and neck in the great state of Florida, which happened to be governed by a Republican Bush named Jeb.

The most recent spike in Republican machine activity came with Newt Gingrich's GOPAC, which brought Republicans back into Congress during the 1994 midterm elections by training new candidates and campaign staff en masse. Seeing the height of the Republican machine, however, requires going back to the imperial presidency of Richard Nixon over a quarter of a century ago, when the party was resorting to blatantly illegal activity (Watergate) to get its votes.

Today, the Republican machine's main weapon is often cited as disenfranchisement. Republicans tend to support the federalist idea of local control, which often means that communities have to foot much of the bill for their own voting systems. Unsurprisingly, this leads to more votes from the poor (who tend to be Democrats) getting thrown out than votes from the rich (who tend to be Republicans).

(opinion follows) I personally don't agree with this assertion: I would argue that the Republican machine is actually driven by education policy. The Republican Party, as I have encountered them as a citizen of Florida and the United States, has a tendency to cut back programs that would benefit lower-income students (Pell grants, federal matching funds for poorer schools, etc.), all in the name of less big government. This means that the schools, which are designed to create republican machines, end up losing them to the big Republican Machine. (end opinion)

As I've already said, the Democratic Party is just as machine-like as the Republican Party, but the Republicans seem to be more insidious to me, perhaps because I'm a socialist deep down inside. They've got some good ideas, I'll admit, but their execution could be a bit more egalitarian than it is.