With the Supreme Court saying that Section 4 of the voting rights act needs a do over thus making Section 5 void, many of us are not happy. The odds of Congress coming up with a new formula are pretty slim. But, all may not be lost.
We know that the Republican controlled state houses used the 2010 Census to draw districts that allowed them to hold on to the House last year. This despite Section 4 in at least some of those states. This morning, Politico.com published a story by Alex Isenstadt in which he points out that this gerrymandering may have unintended consequences for them.
No one disputes Republicans used the once-a-decade redistricting process to lock in their House majority — almost certainly through 2014 and possibly until the next round of line-drawing in 2020.
But the party could pay a steep price for that dominance.
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.
These gerrymandered districts are also less diverse.
Gerrymandering and partisanship, of course, aren’t new phenomena in the House. But the post-2010 redistricting process driven by GOP-controlled state legislatures — Republicans wielded line-drawing power in nearly five times as many districts as Democrats — produced significantly more districts that are overwhelmingly conservative.
Of the 234 House Republicans, just four now represent districts that favor Democrats, according to data compiled by The Cook Political Report. That’s down from the 22 Republicans who resided in Democratic-friendly seats following the 2010 midterms, prior to the line-drawing.
They’re also serving districts that are increasingly white. After redistricting and the 2012 election, according to The Cook Political Report, the average Republican congressional district went from 73 percent white to 75 percent white. And even as Hispanics have emerged as America’s fastest-growing demographic group, only about one-tenth of Republicans represent districts where the Latino population is 25 percent or higher.
My Ezra Klein Wonkbook email this morning pointed out
The conventional wisdom around Washington these days is that the Republican Party needs to pass immigration reform if it’s going to survive. But remember: House Republicans aren’t the same thing as “the Republican Party.” And they probably don’t need to pass immigration reform to keep their majority. In fact, passing immigration reform — at least with a path to citizenship — might put them in more danger. Two figures from Janet Hook in the Wall Street Journal show why.
First, “only 38 of the House’s 234 Republicans, or 16%, represent districts in which Latinos account for 20% or more of the population.”
Second, “only 28 Republican-held districts are considered even remotely at risk of being contested by a Democratic challenger, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.”
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.
Of course, that leaves some 34 Republicans who have reason to fear a Democratic challenge. And it leaves dozens who privately support immigration reform and don’t have much to fear from either Democratic or Republican challengers.
So the Republican House members mostly represent people like themselves and need to become more conservative, not less, to keep their seats. We aren’t talking just about immigration reform here, but a whole range of issues. It also explains why the House’s favorite vote is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
What does all this mean for Democratic chances to take back the House in the next election? Isenstadt writes
New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, argued that Republicans in moderate suburban and exurban areas will find themselves under increasing pressure in the months leading up to the midterms.
“The problem for many Republicans in these specific districts is that if they’re less partisan, they face a primary from the right. If they protect themselves from a primary by being more partisan, they’re in trouble in the general election,” Israel said. “They’re getting squeezed. We’re going to make sure that hole is very small.”
The question is: Are there enough of those districts for the Democrats to take the House?
It would appear that much of what is holding up legislation in the House are internal Republican fights.
When House Republicans have rallied behind legislation, it’s often been for something deeply conservative. Two weeks ago, Republicans passed a measure that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Just six GOP members opposed the bill, including two because it didn’t go far enough.
To the conservatives, softening the GOP’s positions isn’t what’s going to save the party in the long run.
“Political success doesn’t come from moderation,” said Arizona Rep. David Schweikert, a Republican who opposed the farm bill and supported the anti-abortion measure. “It’s from having principles and articulating them in a forthright fashion.”
Schweikert, who represents a conservative Scottsdale-area district that Mitt Romney carried with nearly 60 percent of the vote, called the Senate immigration bill a “nonstarter.” His district is 12 percent Hispanic.
The bottom line is that so-called national Republican leaders who currently do not hold elective office along with some governors and Senators who have to run statewide campaigns can call for the party to moderate positions all they want. The House has hitched its horse to some very conservative ideals so Republican members can get re-elected. In the long run, this is probably good for the Democrats.
- Immigration Reform: Passes Senate and Now Will Dawdle in House (americantitanic.wordpress.com)
- Robert Kuttner: Why Voter Suppression Will Backfire (huffingtonpost.com)
- Sen. Schumer: House will pass Senate immigration bill (politic365.com)
- Why Ignoring the Demographic Time Bomb Would Be Easy for House Republicans (elections.firedoglake.com)
- Pelosi Calls GOP Out On Immigration Reform (huffingtonpost.com)
- Revealed: Alleged Democratic Scheme to Gerrymander Florida (theblaze.com)
- Has bill’s support cursed Rubio? (TBO.com)