Politics is so often about opportunities: The Republican Party could pass almost anything they wanted in the early 2000s, and they got through two Bush tax cuts, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act and much more. The Democrats surged in 2008 and got through Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, among others. The fallout from the 2012 election had many in the Republican Party calling for immigration reform, and the Senate passed a major piece of immigration legislation (which the House has been awfully slow to take up). Now there is a unique opportunity to take on a serious issue in American politics. The window is open, but it might not be for long, and Democrats need to pounce on it while they can.
The issue is gerrymandering, and the opportunity comes from the disarray within the Republican Party. Gerrymandering refers to a state legislature drawing districts to protect members of their party, make elections more challenging for the other party, and pick up more seats. Districts are redrawn every ten years, following a nationwide census, and the Republican Party cashed in on their big electoral wins that year by redrawing districts all over the country. Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives received more votes than Republicans in the 2012 election, but due to gerrymandering, the Republican Party holds 32 more seats.
However, the Republican Party is now experiencing the other side of that coin. With so many GOP members drawn into safe districts, they don’t fear Democrat challengers, but they have to worry about Tea Party members challenging them in the primary. The result is a very emboldened core of Tea Partiers in the House, and a middle group of about 100 representatives within the Republican Party who don’t always want to go along with the Tea Party plan, but fear retribution if they don’t.
That’s how we got the Republican Party demand to defund Obamacare or the government would shutdown. The government shutdown hurt the GOP badly in the polls. There is a movement within the Republican Party to try and wrest control from the Tea Party, but that will be quite difficult. Furthermore, there is no guarantee who will be redrawing the lines after 2020. By striking a deal with the Democrats on gerrymandering, the Republican Party could have a long term plan to combat Tea Party extremists from controlling their party, and insulate themselves from a potential Democrat sweep in 2020.
Opportunities like this don’t come often. The Democrats should pounce and push bills that reform district-drawing practices in every state they can, and introduce federal legislation to create enforceable standards around gerrymandering.