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Column: Thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans can continue to behave abominably and win the midterms

LA Times logo LA Times 11/19/2021 Jackie Calmes
Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) might finally realize his dream to become speaker of the house if Republicans win the midterms in 2022. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times) © Provided by LA Times Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) might finally realize his dream to become speaker of the house if Republicans win the midterms in 2022. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

House Republicans began the year with nearly two-thirds of them voting against ratifying Joe Biden’s election. In doing so, they allied with the insurrectionists, incited by Donald Trump, who’d stormed the Capitol just hours before to prevent the constitutionally mandated vote.

Fast-forward to this week: Ten months after that tragedy of incitement and political violence, House Republicans refused to censure Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, the white nationalist sympathizer who’d posted an animated video depicting him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and threatening President Biden. Yet they weighed whether to punish 13 Republican colleagues as “traitors” simply for supporting the infrastructure bill Biden signed into law Monday.

As you consider that record, also consider this: The Republicans are all but certain to be “rewarded” with a House majority in the midterm elections a year from now, given historical winds and malapportioned districts. Their leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, might finally realize his dream to become speaker, purchased by the sale of his soul to Trump.

Talk about a perverse system.

The Republican Party needs a net gain of only five House seats to take control. On paper they’ve already won them, thanks not to voters but to Republican state legislators redrawing maps to gerrymander congressional districts after the 2020 census. Republicans are benefiting even though all of the nation’s population growth since 2010 is due to an increased number of people of color, who tend to support Democrats.

Republicans hold power in enough states to control the redistricting process for about 187 of the House’s 435 seats, compared to 75 seats over which Democrats have controlling influence. The remaining districts are in states, including California, where independent commissions or courts draw the lines; states where control of the legislature and governorship is split between the parties; or small states with a single seat.

Republicans are “cracking and packing,” as political mappers say, breaking up existing districts to make red ones safer for Republicans and consolidating Democratic-leaning voters — particularly people of color — into as few districts as possible. States where Republicans stand to gain seats include Texas, Iowa, Georgia, Montana, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. In North Carolina, a state Biden lost by just 1 percentage point, Republicans are favored to win in 11 of 14 districts under a new map; they currently hold eight of 13 seats (the state gained one because of population growth).

Democrats can only blunt the losses with gerrymandering of their own in fewer states where they hold sway, notably New York and Illinois.

Republicans also have history on their side. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s time, the president’s party has lost congressional seats in all but two midterm elections. Voters’ inclination to send a nasty-gram to the White House has been especially pronounced when the president’s popularity is under 50% — as Biden’s has been for months.

So House Republicans can continue to behave abominably and still be confident of taking the prize next November. (Republicans could also win a Senate majority, but the states in contention give Democrats hope of keeping or adding to their 50 seats.)

Republicans in the House have shunned the few colleagues who voted to impeach Trump for provoking the insurrection and expelled Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from the party leadership, while coddling an expanding fringe that includes Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-QAnon). McCarthy doesn’t want to risk losing party militants’ support for speaker — or Trump’s — though Greene made threats this week nonetheless.

It will be especially maddening if Republicans emerge victorious in the next election when they refuse to acknowledge the integrity of the last one. What’s more, the ranks of anti-democratic Trump puppets are likely to increase, reflecting the former president’s unprecedented efforts to oust anyone he considers disloyal.

Just on Monday, Trump endorsed a rival to Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, one of the 10 pro-impeachment House Republicans. And he intervened in a primary race pitting two West Virginia Republican incumbents in a single district after population loss cost their state a House seat. He endorsed the one who opposed both the infrastructure bill and the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, or, as Trump calls it, “the Unselect Committee of partisan hacks and degenerates.”

With no policy platform of their own, Republicans dismiss Democrats’ agenda as socialism. Yet back home they shamelessly take credit for benefits made possible by Biden’s two achievements, the $1-trillion, multiyear infrastructure plan and the earlier $1.9-trillion pandemic relief package.

Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama tweeted this week to hail the green light for a Birmingham highway project — “a priority of mine since I was elected to Congress, and new funding for the project has now passed.” He didn’t mention he voted against the infrastructure bill. And even as he and other Republicans decry its cost, Palmer told constituents in a separate statement that the Birmingham highway would add $2 billion to the local economy and create 14,000 jobs over the decade.

Forget Infrastructure Week, it’s Infrastructure Decade! No thanks to Palmer or most of his party.

Lucky for him, red-state Alabama and the nation that Democrats did the deal that Trump couldn’t do, even with Republican control of Congress for two years. Stuff like this won’t happen if — when? — Palmer and the rest of the anti-government, anti-compromise crowd of fake fiscal conservatives get control again.

@jackiekcalmes

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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