Tag Archives: partisan fringe

The Power of the Gerrymander

Members of Indiana’s General Assembly will soon vote on an anti-Gerrymandering measure introduced by Jerry Torr, a “good government” Republican. The odds are that with a bit of a push, it will pass the Indiana House; but absent some really effective citizen lobbying, it isn’t likely to make it through the Senate, and that’s a real shame.

If readers of this blog need motivation to participate in that citizen lobbying effort, let me point to an important column by Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo, in which he connects the multiple dangers posed by Donald Trump directly to successful GOP gerrymandering. (The emphasis in the following excerpt is mine.)

In a less polarized partisan environment Trump never would have been elected and, if he had, might already be looking at possible impeachment. I think the greatest single explanation of Trump is that his politics profoundly galvanized a minority of the electorate and only a minority of the electorate. Almost everyone who wasn’t galvanized was repulsed. But once he had secured the GOP nomination with that minority, the power of partisan polarization kicked in to lock into place perhaps the next 15% to 20% of the electorate which otherwise would never have supported him. The fact that partisan identification proved stronger than that repulsion is the key reason many, including myself, wrongly discounted Trump’s ability to win. As long as Trump remains “us” to Republican voters I see little reason to think anything we can imagine will shake that very high level of support he gets from self-identified Republicans. That likely means that, among other things, no matter how unpopular Trump gets, Republican lawmakers will continue to support him because the chances of ending their careers is greater in a GOP primary than in a general election.

As I have repeatedly argued, the creation of “safe” seats for either party via partisan redistricting means that the real election occurs in that party’s primary. The people who vote in primary elections are primarily the “party faithful,” and they come overwhelmingly from the party’s fringe. Democratic voters in primaries are demonstrably to the left of the party as a whole, and Republican primary voters are even further to the right of the average Republican.

My Facebook page has been filled with criticisms of the U.S. House and Senate Republicans who have gone meekly along with the seriously disturbed person who occupies the Oval Office. (I can’t bring myself to attach the word “President” to this embarrassing buffoon.) What happened to their patriotism, their cojones? The answer is simple: the gerrymandering that makes them vulnerable to defeat if they cross the crazies of their own party has neutered them.

Gerrymandering is the reason that otherwise reasonable politicians consistently put partisan loyalties above the common good.

It would be nice if a few of them exhibited some integrity, and if Trump continues to threaten democratic norms and fundamental American interests, perhaps some of them will “grow a pair”– especially those getting ready to retire or otherwise leave office, who will not face another election.

The rest of them are caught between self-interest (which requires that they avoid offending the party’s fringe) and (for those that have them) their consciences.

Welcome to the world that gerrymandering has wrought…..