Forget the Coup, the GOP is Trying to Steal the Next Five Elections

The Republicans are planning to gerrymander Democrats out of power for a decade

As the last embers of Donald Trump’s particularly stupid coup die out, a debate has broken out on Twitter about just how close he came to pulling it off. The debate featured two sides: those who believed Trump’s efforts to steal the election were doomed to fail and those who believe he came within a hair of executing a coup. Because this debate mostly occurred on Twitter, it was overly reductive and lacking nuance.

Ultimately, both sides are right. Trump never had a chance of stealing THIS election, but his attempt to do so vividly demonstrated the vulnerability of our norms-based political system. I believe that if the election had come down to a narrow margin in one state it would have been stolen with the help of a rigged Supreme Court and acquiescence of the entire Republican Party.

The problem with this debate is that it obscures the actual election theft that is happening right before our very eyes. Long before Trump showed up, Republicans have been stealing elections through anti-democratic power grabs. These efforts get less attention (and online outrage), because they happen quietly while most of the political universe obsesses about the Trumpian outrage du jour.

While Trump tweets out his coup plans like a particularly incompetent comic book villain, the Republican Party, Koch-funded groups, and others quietly go about the business of using the redistricting process by hang onto political power.

Gerrymandering is just as much election theft as this post-election coup attempt and much more likely to succeed.

Gerrymandering: The Slow Food Coup

Republicans held onto power for most of the 2010s despite representing fewer and fewer voters by drawing congressional and state legislative districts in ways that disproportionately disenfranchised traditionally Democratic voters.

Wisconsin is a great example of just how pernicious Republican efforts to gerrymander have been. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel pointed out in 2018:

GOP Gov. Scott Walker lost his bid for re-election by roughly 1 percentage point Nov. 6 to Democrat Tony Evers.  Yet Walker carried 63 of the state’s 99 state Assembly districts.  

North Carolina is another example. The state has been a toss up in the last four Presidential elections, yet heading into the 2020 election, the Republicans held 10 of 13 Congressional seats.

In Wisconsin, North Carolina, and elsewhere, Republicans have been able to push an unpopular conservative agenda that benefits their donors, because they never have to face the voters in a fair manner. Gerrymandering is immunity from political accountability.

The Republicans had the power to gerrymander because they swept the 2010 elections and were in place to redraw the districts after the decennial census. The 2020 election was supposed to be antidote to the problem. Democrats had the opportunity to flip legislative chambers in North Carolina, Texas, Iowa and elsewhere. Controlling even one legislative chambers ensures that a party has a chance to essentially veto unfair legislative maps.

Unfortunately, Democrats failed to flip a single legislative chamber and lost control in New Hampshire. This is a hugely damaging failure. Republicans are already licking their chops at the opportunity to once again disenfranchise voters. This isn’t some cynical assumption on my part. I know that’s their plan, because they said so publicly on multiple occasions. Former Republican Senator and CNN’s resident doofus Rick Santorum recently celebrated the fact that Republicans could re-draw district lines to lock them into power for a decade. Prior to the election, the Republican President of the Kansas State Senate used the ability to gerrymander Democrats out of office as an explicit pitch for support in the campaign.

It’s tempting to chalk up these public admissions as mistakes made by politicians too dumb to know which part to not say out loud. But I think it is something much more dangerous.Republicans feel no shame about their plans to steal future elections through gerrymandering. And that says everything about how aggressive they will be to hold onto power.

The Battle to Come

The election that just passed was an important step in the battle of the district lines for the next decade, but it’s only the first step. In the coming months, the U.S. Census Bureau will release the data that will show which states gained and lost Congressional seats based on population growth and shrinkage. For the states that gain seats, these are huge opportunities for the party in power to make it easier to control Congress. Texas, for example, is expected to gain at least a few seats. Republicans control all the levers of power in the state and they will certainly ensure those new seats are safely in Republican hands. For the states that lose seats, it’s a chance to redistrict a member of the other party into retirement. A recent report in Politico walked through the incumbent members of Congress that could lose their seats in the redistricting process. Unsurprisingly, Republicans seem likely to target women of color like Representatives Sharice Davids in Kansas and Lucy McBath in Georgia,.

The release of the Census data begins a long process of map drawing, public debate, and state legislative votes. The Republicans have the bulk of the power in that process, but that doesn’t mean we should give up hope or disengage. There are opportunities to fight back. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Pay Attention. The Republicans want to rig these future elections in the dark of night. Their hope is that Democrats will be too distracted by the fights in Washington or disenchanted by some of the disappointing election results to fight back. We can’t let that happen. We need to stay engaged in politics at the local level and pay attention to what the Republicans are trying to do. Covering various Republican redistricting shenanigans will be part of the plan for Message Box. I am confident it will also be topic of discussion on Pod Save America. You can also follow the Cook Report’s Dave Wasserman. When Dave isn’t calling elections, he is assiduously detailing the redistricting process. The more attention paid to Republican attempts to gerrymander, the harder it will be for them to pull it off.

  • Call Them Out. Whether its voter suppression, gerrymandering, or court rigging, Republicans rarely pay a political price, because Democrats rarely make them. Process arguments can seem boring and detached from the day to day concerns of voters, so a lot of politicians eschew them for a policy-centric message. But process is the predicate for policy. Therefore, we need to tell a story about what is happening, why it is happening, and who benefits. And like every good story it needs an antagonist. Here is one proposed message

    Republicans are rigging the system to ensure your vote doesn’t count because they want to be able pass a special interest, pro-corporation agenda opposed by the majority of the people of {insert state here}. The Republicans want to drown out your voice so that they can do the bidding of big corporations and wealthy donors.

    The public is relatively cynical about the motivations about most politicians. The idea that they would protect their own power is not surprising. That is why is it critical to detail the interests that benefit from the gerrymandering. This story can be told in ads, at press conferences, at protests, on social media, and in conversations with the people in your networks

  • Support the Groups on the Ground: This fight is just beginning and a number of state and national organizations will engage as things ramp up, but here are a few that are likely to play a major role in pushing back against the rigging of our democracy.

    • National Democratic Redistricting Committee: The NDRC is an organization chaired by former Attorney General Eric Holder and supported by Barack Obama that was started in 2017 to fight against gerrymandering.

    • Run for Something: The best way to put pressure on the Republicans drawing the maps in 2021 is to ensure they have quality, well-funded opponents in 2022. Run for Something recruits and trains candidates to run up and down the ballot. They are an essential organization for building sustainable progressive power. If you are reading this newsletter and have any desire to run for office, please contact Run for Something ASAP.

    • Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee: The DLCC is the campaign committee that focuses on state legislative races. In previous cycles, they have been at the forefront of the redistricting battles. In general, Democrats need to do a better job of investing in state-level races. The DLCC is a good place to do that.

Trump tried and failed miserably to steal one election, Republicans are in the midst of trying to steal the next five elections. Everything we care about is on the line. it won’t be easy, but with proper attention and activism we can do a lot to stop them.