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Republican Ruthlessness and Democratic Ineptitude Got Us Here

Only one party read the tea leaves of the 2010 Census.

"In the real world, and especially in the lives of every American who is not an oligarch, this master plan has come at a terrible cost." (Photo: Reuters/Gary Cameron)

"In the real world, and especially in the lives of every American who is not an oligarch, this master plan has come at a terrible cost." (Photo: Reuters/Gary Cameron)

On Wednesday, Salon published a remarkable piece based on documents it sprung from various places, including the inner sanctums of Republican organizations, that paints almost a complete picture of how that party got itself ahead in the long game of redistricting our politics to its complete advantage. In a strictly academic sense, it’s a marvel of planning and execution energized by apparently limitless gobs of corporate money and the vast donations of the country’s plutocrats. 

The visionaries at the Republican State Leadership Committee, who designed the aptly-named strategy dubbed REDMAP, short for Redistricting Majority Project, managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress. It proved more effective than any Republican dared dream. Republicans held the U.S. House in 2012, despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic congressional candidates, and won large GOP majorities in the Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina state legislatures even when more voters backed Democrats.

They saw the census year of 2010 coming from a mile off. They recognized the importance of electing state legislators for the purpose of redrawing maps so that they more easily could elect more members of Congress.

Republicans, Hofeller said, must be fully prepared and engaged on multiple fronts — and he told state legislators that they would play the starring roles. He explained how in more than 40 states, state legislatures drew both their own state House and Senate districts, along with the vast majority of the 435 U.S. House seats. He walked through the importance of being in the room when the new lines were drawn. He emphasized that the state legislative elections in 2009 and 2010 represented the party’s last chance to influence its position at what he called the “redistricting table” when line-drawing began after the census — and suggested how meaningful it could be to be the only people in the room.

The Democratic Party, at both the state and national levels, was completely wrong-footed on all of this. I’m telling you, people will be studying how the Republicans did this in political science classes for the next 100 years. It’s like the Republicans were the only ones that remembered everything they’d learned in civics class.

However, in the real world, and especially in the lives of every American who is not an oligarch, this master plan has come at a terrible cost. Retrograde policies have been enacted by legislatures drawn so crookedly that even the United States Supreme Court recognizes it now. Wisconsin has been changed from the proud laboratory of progressive politics into a conservative policy lab rat second only to the disaster that was Sam Brownback’s Kansas. Thanks to a local Kochish clone named Art Pope, North Carolina went so newly insane that an entirely new civil rights movement sprang up almost overnight in reaction.
 
And, as to the United States House of Representatives, in 2010 and 2014, this long-term project has visited upon the nation the two worst Congresses ever elected. History will blame the Republicans for the damage they’ve wrought, but it will blame the Democrats for failing to see it coming. 
“Maps matter,” the RSLC presentation continues. It calls maps the first tool in winning elections. In Texas, it explains, Democrats controlled the congressional delegation by a margin of 17 to 15 before the GOP won back the state legislature. Once Republicans had the pens in their own hands, that swung to 21-11 in the GOP’s favor the very next election. 

Read the whole thing, as the kidz say. This is how we got here.

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Charles P. Pierce

Charles P. Pierce

Charles P. Pierce is a writer-at-large for Esquire and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the LA Times Magazine, the Nation, the Atlantic, Sports Illustrated and The Chicago Tribune, among others.

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