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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, July 1, 2013

House GOP: Individual Incentives v. Party Needs

Congress operates on the Reverse Spock Principle:  the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. What is good for an individual member in the next election may not be good for the whole party over the long term. In After Hope and Change, we supply some examples.

Alex Isenstadt writes at Politico:
Some top GOP strategists and candidates warn that the ruby red districts the party drew itself into are pushing House Republicans further to the right — narrowing the party’s appeal at a time when some GOP leaders say its future rests on the opposite happening. If you’re looking for a root cause of the recurring drama within the House Republican Conference — from the surprise meltdown on the farm bill to the looming showdown over immigration reform — the increasingly conservative makeup of those districts is a good place to start.
The shellacking Republicans took in 2012 has triggered months of consternation that the party is too white, too conservative and too male. But tell that to the increasing number of House Republicans who are safely ensconced with nary a worry that a Democrat might unseat them in the next election.
The bigger threat to them is a primary challenge from the right bankrolled by the Club for Growth or another deep-pocketed outside group angry they went soft on a key vote.
“It’s obviously easier for a House member to focus on their district. They’re in cycle every day of the year, always on the hot seat, and there’s always a challenger around the corner,” said Matt Schlapp, who served as political director in the George W. Bush White House.
Still, Schlapp added, “You want to be sensitive to the district, but you also need to be cognizant of how your party is going to be successful over time.”
...
Of the 234 House Republicans, just four now represent districts that favor Democrats, according to data compiled by The Cook Political Report. That’s down from the 22 Republicans who resided in Democratic-friendly seats following the 2010 midterms, prior to the line-drawing.
They’re also serving districts that are increasingly white. After redistricting and the 2012 election, according to The Cook Political Report, the average Republican congressional district went from 73 percent white to 75 percent white. And even as Hispanics have emerged as America’s fastest-growing demographic group, only about one-tenth of Republicans represent districts where the Latino population is 25 percent or higher.
PM update.  Sean Trende, however, observes:
...81 percent of Democrats occupy districts that are at least five points more Democratic than the country as a whole, while 81 percent of Republicans hail from districts that are similarly Republican. But the bottom line is that whatever malady is supposedly afflicting Republicans should also be afflicting Democrats, perhaps more so, if gerrymandering were to blame.
... 
Contrary to conventional wisdom, moderate districts do not clearly beget moderate candidates. For some good, concrete examples, think of the Senate. The states that are between two points more Republican and two points more Democratic than the country as a whole currently send senators like Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Tom Harkin, Ron Johnson, Amy Klobuchar, Harry Reid, Pat Toomey and Mark Udall to the Senate.

None of these senators is going to be mistaken for a moderate anytime soon. The rest tend to be reliable conservative or liberal votes who have the occasional apostasy -- senators like Kelly Ayotte, Bob Casey Jr., Chuck Grassley, Rob Portman, and Marco Rubio. The senators who really fit the bill as moderate tend to be those who manage to get elected in deeply unfriendly territory: Think Joe Manchin and Susan Collins.

As Nolan McCarty has observed, this is a huge problem for the polarization-due-to-gerrymandering hypothesis. The Senate is usually cited as the epicenter of polarization and partisan dysfunction in our country, yet its “lines” have remained unchanged since Hawaii became a state in 1959. McCarty also notes that if you look at the ideology of House members who represent swing constituencies, their ideologies have likewise spread apart over time.