The Wall And The Wave

No, not that wall. The wall that Republican partisan redistricting built to keep Democratic voters out.

A report from Politico in the wake of the midterm elections put it succinctly:the GOP had used partisan redistricting to build a “wall” around Congress; Trump tore it down.

For years, some Democrats said gerrymandering was an insurmountable roadblock to the House majority that couldn’t be cleared until after the 2020 census.

Then along came President Donald Trump.

House Democrats steamrolled Republicans in an array of districts last week, from those drawn by independent commissions or courts, to seats crafted specifically by Republicans with the intention of keeping them in the GOP column.

The overriding factor: a Republican president who political mapmakers could not have foreseen at the beginning of the decade. Trump altered the two parties’ coalitions in ways that specifically undermined conventional wisdom about the House map, bringing more rural voters into the GOP tent while driving away college-educated voters.

I’ve posted numerous times about the ways in which gerrymandering undercuts democratic decision-making, and discourages voter turnout. I’ve also referenced several  books and articles detailing 2011’s “RedMap”–the GOP’s most thorough, successful national effort at locking in a Republican House majority. (The book Ratfucked said it all…)

The were two important structural lessons from this year’s midterms.

First, the results confirmed a truism among political operatives and observers: In order to surmount the gerrymandered wall, Democrats would need at least a 7 point vote advantage. Nationally, they got that, and a bit more.

Second–gerrymandering really does matter more than the geography of “sorting” would suggest. In Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort, he pointed out that Americans currently migrate to locations where they feel philosophically and politically comfortable. We can see the results in the rise of the Urban Archipelago–those blue dots representing cities with populations over 500,000.

One argument against nonpartisan redistricting rests on the theory that–since we have “sorted” ourselves into red and blue enclaves– gerrymandering really doesn’t make much difference. The Politico article undercuts that argument, bigly.

Despite Democrats’ massive House gains — the party’s biggest since 1974, after Richard Nixon’s resignation — redistricting clearly held them back in some places. Democrats netted at least 21 districts drawn by independent commissions or courts — getting a major boost from courts in Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia that altered GOP-drawn maps in the past two years — along with 10 districts drawn by Republicans and the two in Illinois that were drawn by Democrats.

As the article makes clear, Democrats did appreciably better in non-gerrymandered districts.

The blue wave was high enough to overcome a large number of gerrymandered walls, thanks to revulsion against and very welcome rejection of Donald Trump. But in districts drawn fairly–without partisan bias–they did even better.

Gerrymandering, vote suppression (Georgia, anyone?) and the other tactics being used by the GOP to game the system need to be eliminated. A few states–Missouri and Michigan among them–voted this month for fair elections; the rest of us need to do the same.

We shouldn’t need a “wave” to install a government that reflects the values of  the majority  of America.


  1. The only way the GOP can win in Indiana is by cheating…and the Indiana Democrats screwing up like they did this year.

  2. That gerrymandering “wall” is still in full force in Congress and will be till January 3, 2019. That GOP “wall” can uphold Kellyanne Conway’s comment that Trump is willing to shut down government to get the money to build “that wall”. I have seen news briefs that he is considering shutting down government but nothing as specific as Kellyanne’s comment. Is he waiting for Melania’s approval?

    We cannot relax our guard after the wins in the mid-terms; we had three big losses in Florida and Georgia, both states are primary GOP strongholds to maintain gerrymandering and voter suppression. The sudden concessions from Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Senator Nelson (with not all votes counted) make me wonder if they are supported by those who are fighting to end gerrymandering and voter suppression and plan to return in their next election cycle? The billions of campaign dollars spent on these elections alone could resolve many of the problems facing those who are homeless, hungry, seriously ill with no medical care as well as those seeking a living wage or higher education. Another example of American waste adding to our shame before the world. We shouldn’t be paying to fight to maintain our civil and human rights via the continuing demands for donations to parties and groups who should be doing their jobs and upholding Rule of Law.

    “We shouldn’t need a “wave” to install a government that reflects the values of the majority of America.”

  3. The so-called Democratic Party in Indiana is a joke. They had a great crop of newcomers on the scene but abandoned them all to hitch their ride onto Joe Donnelly. More failed strategy.

    Gaining a small number of seats to work against gerrymandering and counter other GOP abuses is a fair strategy.

    A better strategy is working with decades of momentum built by progressives across the country. I recognize that Indiana is always lagging about 10 years behind our coasts, but Michigan was able to do it. Wisconsin was able to do it.

    Minnesota is already there.

    Americans who aren’t locked into the corporate boob tube like Boomers are already getting one hell of an education on what a progressive look likes and what a Democratic Party member looks like. The power structures are all corrupted and have been for decades. If you think gerrymandering is only a GOP weapon, pay attention.

    As I’ve said before, Trump was a gift to progressives. Both political parties were under attack before 2016 but the alternative right was better organized and had LOTS of money. I’m pretty sure they didn’t want Trump but when Pence was added, they calmed down. But now the rabid right has locked into manipulating racists for votes.

    Meanwhile, progressives advocate for the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, strengthening the social safety nets, free education, shrinking dollars for wars, etc.

    The corporate hierarchy built in this country, which includes both political parties, are coming to an end. Americans aren’t ignorant–they’re oppressed and manipulated by unscrupulous leaders.

  4. Todd,

    “As I’ve said before, Trump was a gift to progressives.”

    He’s more than that. He’s Santa Claus to democracy and especially “little d” democrats.

  5. “The only way the GOP can win in Indiana is by cheating…and the Indiana Democrats screwing up like they did this year.”

    The only way Republicans can win anywhere is by cheating, either through the draconian gerrymandering or through all the other equally repugnant voter suppression methods that they use. Thoroughly, thoroughly, disgusting on all counts.

    Given the way Trump has behaved since the election and his continual lasting out and nearly everyone in sight, alas target being ADM Bill McRaven, it is going to continually hurt their election prospects and their image as a viable political party. The question is whether the loyal opposition, of which I am a member, will be able to avoid having nervous breakdowns from listening to the dribble coming out of this man’s mouth multiple times a day. People on all sides are slowly but surely getting sick of this and you will be a tipping point and it may be coming sooner than later in regard to getting this clown out of office. Trump may not even run in 2020 since he’s in a good position to cash in to collect his financial winnings and move on leaving the smoking wreckage of our government behind when he does.

    Perhaps, just perhaps. Even though we will have lots of rebuilding to do across the board at that point there might be an audible sigh of relief that goes from shining shore to shining shore across this country.

    What a mess we have allowed ourselves to be in and if this is not a lesson of just how important voter plurality and public engagement in electoral politics in this country is I don’t know what is.

  6. Tom,

    We need a sigh of relief, but we most move now to take advantage, if Santa Claus will forgive me, of Donald Trump, the Santa Claus imposter. I’m extremely optimistic. My Christmas tree is already decorated and lit. I’m not joking.

  7. JoAnn,

    Down here in sunny, red FLA, Nelson only picked up three thousand votes when he needed over thirteen thousand votes. Gillum also could not overcome the difference with the number of ballots left to count. There was little point to holding out and just coming off as a sore loser. So our favorite thief and our favorite racist go on to the Senate and the governor’s mansion respectively, and once again we are who we seemed to be.

    It’s time to start building for 2020. We have to find a candidate to run against Little Marco, who doesn’t seem to have any real beliefs. Perhaps Andrew Gillum?

  8. Peggy; I agree in part but, to borrow an often used line from Stephen King’s Florida novel, “Duma Key”, “maybe si, maybe no”. We have no way of knowing how many votes were suppressed or how many other votes were not counted. I was still living in Florid in 2000 when Jeb Bush spearheaded the “recount” resulting in his big brother George W. becoming president. Daily the local news and newspapers were fill with voter suppression of those turned away at the polls because they were listed as “deceased” or as “convicted felons” when they were not. During the “recount” someone found a locked closet filled with boxes of Absentee Ballots and early voter ballots; someone declared they didn’t arrive in time for the election so all were discarded. Using those voting machines; we could at times “feel” that those bits of “dangling chad” didn’t go through. We have only the words of state leaders that the vote counts were legal, correct and fully counted. I doubt my 2016 vote was counted due to problems I had at the poll in this Trump infested area; no way to be sure my Absentee Ballot was counted this year. But I will continue to vote with fingers crossed.

  9. Regarding the battle to end gerrymandering in Indiana, it seems that it is an extreme uphill battle that will take years to win and possibly decades. The gop has a firm grip on this state.

    When I mention gerrymandering to republicans in my district they have never heard of it. When I try to explain it they don’t understand it. They prefer to stick with their story that Democrats are sore losers because we just don’t get enough votes to win.

    Our party needs a better leader in Indiana, but I have not heard of anyone who is willing to step up and take over this daunting task. We need someone who can inspire the younger generations. The older generations have been beaten down and/or are just too tired to fight anymore.

    Has anyone in Indiana heard a whisper about someone who is thinking of taking over the task of becoming the State Democratic Party leader for Indiana?

  10. The next Hoosier election is almost as important as the national election to be conducted that year. It will be a once in ten year opportunity to do some reverse gerrymandering due to the constitutionally decreed decennial, and we need to go full bore into trying to overcome the current gerrymandering scheme with sheer number (as we just did nationally). That will take time, and most importantly, organization and effort. When to start? Yesterday.

  11. Trump and his iteration of the Republican Party are still a formidable force. Many of electoral margins were razor thin.

  12. The courts have been used in other states to achieve some degree of fairness in drawing districts. Trying to achieve fair districts is a lost cause in Indiana as the GOP will one way or another block any attempts to do so in the legislature.

    Perhaps in Indiana the courts could be used also, both State and Federal courts. The Democratic Party in Indiana is like a zombie. I suppose the lesson for Democratic Establishment from Donnelly’s loss will be, we need to go farther to Right. Will we see John Gregg as a candidate again for governor or another uninspiring choice.

    Nationally, the Democrats could develop a model plan with their new majority to implement changes on a Federal Level. Since nearly every election involves Federal Candidates a National Plan would supersede all the different state’s laws, concerning registration, types of machines, number of voting machines, number of voting centers, etc. Changes the House might try to make would run into a stonewall in the Senate and President Agent Orange’s and Pastor Pence’s Veto Pen. At least it would be start.

  13. John Neal @ 10:16 am, you are exactly right. The House may look like a “Blue Wave” in total but many races were not a blow out victory.

    The Democrats now that they have a degree of power need move forward on a Progressive Agenda, to highlight the differences. My fear is the Democrats will try to reach across the table and get their hands hacked off as it usually happens. Just as bad would be the perception of a all out War or Quest against President Agent Orange and abandon any meaningful Progressive Agenda or Actions.

  14. One of the historical points that I believe 2018 became is the time when Progressives could stop talking about Agent Orange and the gang who couldn’t shoot straight and start talking about Democrats. I believe that Mueller and reality will hold the thuggery accountable and that process will grab a lot of press but throughout it all we need to maintain focus on 2020.

    Of course our Presidential candidate has yet to emerge from the pack but to undo the damage of the Trump years we will have to find and elect an Obama capable replacement Executive team. We also have to focus on both Houses of Congress.

    What will the next two years deal us? I’m pretty sure an economic collapse but less clear are the Holy Wars. Is the whole world sick of war yet? Will Trump stop poking sticks into the global beehives and be made to have no time to devote to anything but criminal defense? Will the consequences of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) continue to worsen to the point where FEMA replaces the military as our biggest expense? Will the global patience over the second biggest cause of those expenses doing nothing to mitigate them end?

    Exciting times and finally something that our generation can take pride in. Taking back our country.

  15. Gerrymandering is often used as an excuse for losing. Thing is, Democrats HAD a winning strategy when Howard Dean was the DNC chairman: 50 STATES!!! The people and areas that Democrats tend to ignore these days are those who actually want to be asked for their votes. Tom Perez’s strategy failed miserably in 2016 when “Santa Claus” kicked Democrats in the groin in states that Perez thought were layups and failed to campaign in.

    So, we simply cannot overanalyze the situation. Campaign like nobody likes you. ASK FOR THEIR VOTES. Then, when sane, relatively honest people have been elected, the rules can be changed to emphasize fairness and true representation.

    We haven’t a moment to lose. 2020 will be here before you know it.

  16. The League of Women Voters Indiana and Common Cause Indiana have been pushing for redistricting reform for years, actively working the statehouse committee hearings with attendees and testimony that falls on deaf ears of most Republican officeholders. Organization Day is tomorrow at the General Assembly. There will be an organized presence of supporters of redistricting reform at 12:30P to let legislators know that the issue is front and center for many of their constituents. But with hate crime legislation (we hope), sports gaming, a budget (!), education issues, to name just a few, it can get lost in the manipulation of the system by the leadership, especially in the House, to put chairs in place that will tow the party line, no matter what.
    That being said, if we don’t show up and make noise, it is much easier to ignore the issue of redistricting reform. It should be the basis for all other considerations.

  17. Please put “bigly” in quotation marks. I’m sure we all understand the reference. Nevertheless, let’s not allow Donald Trump’s weird speech to become part of our normal usage. Sorry to sound like grammar police. It just bugged me.

  18. This year was the first big “if” – If the turn out actually increased, if the youth vote increased, if suburban woman switched sides.
    The answer was yes.

    So 2020 becomes the second big “if” – if the high turn out will continue, if the youth will continue to vote, if the suburban woman continue to reject Trump – also, if there are more voters too young for 2018 who vote in 2020 and less of the old white racists.

    Peggy – take hope – Florida voters opened up a huge untapped source of voters to overcome the election rigging – restoring voting rights to felons who have served their time. I registered several ex-felons here in Indiana in 2008 (amazed that Indiana had such liberal laws). If Gillum is a sign of what Florida Democrats can do, the Republicans may have seen their last hurrah.

    In Indiana, I sadly have less hope. “I am not a Democrat” Joe Donnelly lost, but so did progressive Liz Watson. I still have analysis to do, but I am not certain that Dee Thornton, who ran a positive-only reasonably well funded campaign, did much better than previous Democratic candidates. Still, JD Ford showed that a smart, hard working, openly gay candidate can win a seat in the Indiana General Assembly.

    With Donnelly and Bayh, the lesser, gone, there are possibilities for different kinds of candidates. In the coming months, I expect to hear lots about potential candidates – city council, governor and president. My 200-300 email a day inbox is temporarily smaller, but I expect a deluge come January, if not before.

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