By Ralph Schwartz
The first story to come out of Election Day 2012 was that it was good for Democrats. They retained the presidency and the Senate, and they took back a few seats in the House, which however remained a Republican majority. The oft-repeated phrase in the immediate aftermath of the election was that Republicans would need to do some “soul searching” to figure out how they could have lost to a vulnerable president in the midst of a bad economy — and to figure out how to even remain relevant. That soul searching, some said, would have to be about the belligerent stance Republicans took toward women’s issues, particularly contraception and abortion. (Women, the reasoning went, make up roughly 50 percent of the electorate.)
Even a man once prominent in the Republican Party (but now a pariah, I would imagine) sees a vein of racial intolerance in the current GOP.
There were suggestions also that billionaires would do some soul searching of their own, given their paltry return on investment with groups such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. (As the linked article says, American Crossroads spent $104M on campaigns, about 1 percent of which was spent successfully, opposing two losing candidates.)
Since early November, a new narrative has emerged about how the Republicans won the 2012 election, and how that supposedly ineffective super PAC money was put to good use after all.
By the looks of these later stories, the question journalists began to ask was, “How did the GOP retain a 33-seat majority in the House of Representatives while getting 1 million fewer votes in House races than Democrats?”
The above-linked column from the New Yorker, dated Jan. 10, follows closely this ProPublica investigation from December into how conservative groups funneled large amounts of money into state races, establishing Republican majorities in state houses, leading to redistricting of congressional districts in ways favorable to Republican congresspeople.
Leave it to Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog to put some numbers on the phenomenon. The number of true swing congressional districts, where the winner takes the race by 5 points or less, has dropped by two thirds in 20 years. Now, a majority of districts are landslide districts, where the winner had a 20+ point margin in 2012. That’s twice as many landslide districts than 20 years ago.
The bottom line in a lot of these recent stories about how the Republicans won the House: Because more Republicans are coming from districts carved out to be conservative, they face no serious threat from the left. If anything, they have to keep a far right challenger at bay, by taking extreme positions on spending and taxing. When this group gets into the mix in Congress, there is little potential for meaningful negotiation and compromise with Democrats.
In short, conditions are right for another do-nothing Congress.