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Monday, July 01, 2013

How Gerrymandering is Forcing the GOP to Self-Destruct

It's not well-remembered -- mostly because the media didn't do much with the story -- but earlier this year the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) released a report praising their own gerrymandering efforts and giving those efforts credit for the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. In other words, they admitted to stealing elections. The organization poured money into state races, with the strategy of redrawing district boundaries around solidly conservative populations -- i.e., choosing voters, instead of voters choosing them. "The rationale was straightforward," RSLC's report bragged. "Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn."

These lines were so unfairly drawn that Republicans kept their House majority despite the fact that the Democrats got 1.1 million more votes nationwide. Want to know why congressional approval ratings are so rock-bottom low? There ya go: we wound up with a House that's the opposite of what we voted for. The fact that democracy was thwarted doesn't have to be well-known for the effects to be felt. All that we have to know is that the House of Representatives is going in the opposite direction than that for which most of us voted. Not surprisingly, there are consequences to this -- and they aren't good for the Republican Party.

Politico: Some top GOP strategists and candidates warn that the ruby red districts the party drew itself into are pushing House Republicans further to the right — narrowing the party’s appeal at a time when some GOP leaders say its future rests on the opposite happening. If you’re looking for a root cause of the recurring drama within the House Republican Conference — from the surprise meltdown on the farm bill to the looming showdown over immigration reform — the increasingly conservative makeup of those districts is a good place to start.

The shellacking Republicans took in 2012 has triggered months of consternation that the party is too white, too conservative and too male. But tell that to the increasing number of House Republicans who are safely ensconced with nary a worry that a Democrat might unseat them in the next election.
But what they do have to worry about is a primary challenge from the right. By choosing only the most reliably rightwing voters to elect them, Republicans haven't given themselves a lot of wiggle room. These are the talk radio-brainwashed types for whom compromise is more than a dirty word, it's a crime. Republicans must toe Rush Limbaugh's completely unworkable line or be thrown out as RiNOs or "Republicans in Name Only" -- which is somewhere in the conservative spectrum between communists and people who deny that Obama's a secret illegal alien Muslim terr'ist.


And, as Politico points out, this ideological straitjacket is starting to force their decisions on immigration reform. Over at Wonkblog, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas document the way that the voters in congressional districts are forcing Republicans' hands. Although they leave the issue of gerrymandering largely out of it, it's pretty clear that they've quarantined themselves from reality. Only 16% of House districts have a Latino population of 20% or better and only 28 of 234 are "even remotely at risk of being contested" in any real way by a Democrat. The GOP has chosen their voters, but those voters have extremely narrow interests and brook no deviation from talk radio-approved talking points. At a time when making headway with Latino voters is essential to the party's survival, the voters the party has chosen to steal elections with are so far to the right as to be genuinely anti-Latino. Klein boils it down:

So for about 200 of the House’s Republicans, a primary challenge by conservatives angry over “amnesty” is probably a more realistic threat than defeat at the hands of angry Hispanic voters, or even angry Democrats. “Our guys actually do primary over immigration,” a top House Republican aide who wants to get immigration done told me.
If you want an example of this, take the Republican face of immigration reform -- Marco Rubio. Prior to becoming a key player in the push for reform, Rubio was a Tea Party darling and possible 2016 presidential candidate. Since taking up the cause, his approvals have nosedived with Republican voters. Rubio's been taking a beating for immigration reform on talk radio and from such brilliant luminaries as Ann Coulter and it's taking its toll. As a Senator with a statewide electorate, Rubio is immune from the ideological rigidity of the gerrymandered voter, but House Republicans are not. This may cause them to not only reject immigration reform, but to undermine the party's messaging on the issue and alienate Latino voters with bigoted statements. Because it may not be enough to merely defeat immigration reform, rabid voters in House districts may demand that it be burned in effigy as well.

In the end, gerrymandering may wind up doing the party more harm than good, just as the Supreme Court's right-biased decision on the Voting Rights Act could. It isolates and segregates the party from the general population, making it more responsive to its gerrymandered hothouse environment than to the real world. What they think is saving them is actually destroying them and it's hard to see a way out of it. They may have set themselves on a road with no exits -- a fast-lane to oblivion.


[photo by Fibonacci Blue]

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