In Washington, the real insiders know that the true outrages are what’s perfectly legal and that it’s simply a gaffe when someone accidentally blurts out something honest.
And so it barely made a ripple last week when a Texas congressman (and Donald Trump’s former White House physician) said aloud what’s supposed to be kept to a backroom whisper: Republicans intend to retake the US House of Representatives in 2022 through gerrymandering.
“We have redistricting coming up and the Republicans control most of that process in most of the states around the country,” Representative Ronny Jackson told a conference of religious conservatives. “That alone should get us the majority back.”
He’s right. Republicans won’t have to win more votes next year to claim the US House.
In fact, everyone could vote the exact same way for Congress next year as they did in 2020 – when Democratic candidates nationwide won more than 4.7 million votes than Republicans and narrowly held the chamber – but under the new maps that will be in place, the Republican party would take control.
How is this possible? The Republican party only needs to win five seats to wrench the Speaker’s gavel from Nancy Pelosi. They could draw themselves a dozen – or more – through gerrymandering alone. Republicans could create at least two additional red seats in Texas and North Carolina, and another certain two in Georgia and Florida. Then could nab another in Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and New Hampshire.
They won’t need to embrace policies favored by a majority of Americans. All they need to do is rework maps to their favor in states where they hold complete control of the decennial redistricting that follows the census – some of which they have held since they gerrymandered them 10 years ago. Now they can double down on the undeserved majorities that they have seized and dominate another decade.
If Republicans aggressively maximize every advantage and crash through any of the usual guardrails – and they have given every indication that they will – there’s little Democrats can do. And after a 2019 US supreme court decision declared partisan gerrymandering a non-justiciable political issue, the federal courts will be powerless as well.
It’s one of the many time bombs that threatens representative democracy and American traditions of majority rule. It’s a sign of how much power they have – and how aggressively they intend to wield it – that Republicans aren’t even bothering to deny that they intend to implode it.
“We control redistricting,” boasted Stephen Stepanek, New Hampshire’s Republican state party chair. “I can stand here today and guarantee you that we will send a conservative Republican to Washington as a congressperson in 2022.”
In Kansas, Susan Wagle, the Republican party state senate president, campaigned on a promise to draw a gerrymandered map that “takes out” the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation. “We can do that,” Wagle boasted. “I guarantee you that we can draw four Republican congressional maps.”
Texas Republicans will look to reinforce a map that has held back demographic trends favoring Democrats over the last decade by, among other things, dividing liberal Austin into five pieces and attaching them to rural conservative counties in order to dilute Democratic votes. Texas will also have two additional seats next decade due largely to Latino population growth; in 2011, when similar growth created four new seats for Texas, Republicans managed to draw three for themselves.
North Carolina Republicans crafted a reliable 10-3 Republican delegation throughout the last decade. When the state supreme court declared the congressional map unconstitutional in 2019, it forced the creation of a fairer map in time for 2020. Democrats immediately gained two seats. But the state GOP will control the entire process once again this cycle, so those two seats will likely change side – and Republicans could find a way to draw themselves the seat the state gained after reapportionment.
Two Atlanta-area Democrats are in danger of being gerrymandered out of office by Republicans. The single Democratic member from Kentucky, and one of just two from Tennessee, are in jeopardy if Republicans choose to crack Louisville and Nashville, respectively, and scatter the urban areas across multiple districts. Florida Republicans ignored state constitution provisions against partisan gerrymandering in 2011 and created what a state court called a conspiracy to mount a secret, shadow redistricting process. It took the court until the 2016 election to unwind those ill-gotten GOP gains, however, which provides little incentive not to do the same thing once more. This time, a more conservative state supreme court might even allow those gains to stand.
Might Democrats try the same thing? Democrats might look to squeeze a couple seats from New York and one additional seat from Illinois and possibly Maryland. But that’s scarcely enough to counter the overall GOP edge. In Colorado, Oregon and Virginia, states controlled entirely by Democrats, the party has either created an independent redistricting commission or made a deal to give Republicans a seat at the table. Commissions also draw the lines in other Democratic strongholds like California, Washington and New Jersey. There are no seats to gain in overwhelmingly blue states like Massachusetts, New Mexico and Connecticut.
In many ways, the Republican edge is left over from 2010, when the party remade American politics with a plan called Redmap – short for the Redistricting Majority Project – that aimed to capture swing-state legislatures in places like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida, among others. They’ve never handed them back. Now Redmap enters its second decade of dominance – just as the lawmakers it put into office continue rewriting swing-state election laws to benefit Republicans, under the unfounded pretext of “voter fraud” that did not occur during 2020.
Republicans already benefit from a structural advantage in the electoral college and the US Senate. Presidents that lost the popular vote have appointed five conservative justices to the US supreme court. Now get ready for a drunken bacchanalia of partisan gerrymandering that could make “hot vax summer” look like a chaste Victorian celebration.
Meanwhile, this is how a democracy withers and disappears – slowly, legally, and in plain sight.