What Explains How Deranged the GOP Has Become? Gerrymandering Has a Lot to Do With It

Protesters demonstrate outside the Supreme Court as justices considered partisan gerrymandering. (Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE)

What Explains How Deranged the GOP Has Become? Gerrymandering Has a Lot to Do With It

Fair maps are the only hope for a sane Republican Party and a functioning democracy.

The Wisconsin Legislature is now openly at war with democracy.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and his allies say they are prepared to spend nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to examine the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state, despite the fact that those results have been certified, reviewed, counted and recounted to conform their absolute accuracy.

When legislative districts are drawn to be noncompetitive... they don't just lock-in the political dominance of a district. They lock in the authority of the most extreme faction of the dominant party.

As Gov. Tony Evers says, "It's a $700,000 boondoggle to prove something that's already been proven probably 100 times."

The casual explanation for this fiasco says that Vos is simply doing Donald Trump's bidding after the Assembly speaker was called out by the defeated former president for failing to show sufficient deference to the Big Lie that says the 2020 election was stolen. But that's only part of the explanation.

While Vos is surely a toady to Trump, the reason that the speaker and his GOP colleagues are willing and able to go to extremes has a deeper explanation in the nightmare that is gerrymandering.

The nightmare won't end until the Legislature changes. And it won't change if the maps of the legislative districts of state Assembly and Senate members remain unchanged. Yet that's exactly what the extremists who currently control those chambers propose.

Last week, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 19-12 to use Wisconsin's current legislative district maps as the basis for drawing new maps based on data from the 2020 Census. The Republican-controlled Assembly voted 60-38 for the same scheme, which would effectively maintain the partisan gerrymandering that has warped the Legislature from 2011 through 2021.

For those who are satisfied with the current character of the Republican Party, that's good news. But for Republicans who would like to see their party edge back toward the political mainstream -- and for everyone else who cares about the future of Wisconsin and the country -- it's a jarring political threat.

One of the mistakes that politicians and pundits make when writing about the fight over redistricting of legislative maps is to make the assumption that this is a simple fight between Republicans and Democrats. But that misses the most insidious impact of gerrymandering.

When legislative districts are drawn to be noncompetitive, as is the case with the Wisconsin maps that Republicans drew in 2011 and that they hope to maintain, they don't just lock-in the political dominance of a district. They lock in the authority of the most extreme faction of the dominant party.

That's what has happened to the GOP in Wisconsin.

Republican legislators don't have to worry about partisan competition in November. They're going to win no matter what. Even when Democrats prevail by a wide majority statewide, as they did in 2012 when Barack Obama was reelected and Tammy Baldwin was first elected to the U.S. Senate, the Republicans can't lose. That year, Democrats won 174,000 more votes in the state's 99 Assembly districts than Republicans, but Republicans finished the election with 60 seats to just 39 for the Democrats.

In every election cycle since then, Republicans have maintained their outsized majorities in the Assembly and the Senate -- not as a reflection of voter sentiment but as a reflection of the gerrymandered district lines.

This certainty of election does not make legislators of either party more responsible or representative. Politicians who are certain of victory in November stop worrying about working across lines of partisanship and taking stands that appeal to the great mass of voters. They worry only about primary elections, where only the most intensely partisan voters cast ballots, and where there are rewards for going to ideological extremes.

How extreme?

To the point where now Wisconsin legislators are fostering distrust in Wisconsin's election system. They are not doing so because the counted and recounted system is flawed. They are doing so because that's what Donald Trump wants -- and because they know that, with their gerrymandered district lines, there will be no consequences.

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