If you are hoping for a Democratic (re)takeover of the House of Representatives in 2014, then dream on.
Democrats may have to deal with a divided federal legislature for a long, long time. A GOP-controlled House is likely for 2014, 2016 and 2018.
First, a little background: when Republicans made their stunning sweep in the 2010 midterm election, it provided them the once-in-a-decade opportunity to build and fortify an intrinsic electoral advantage when the 2010 U.S. Census required that districts be redrawn and updated.
Republican-controlled state legislatures and governors carved out safe GOP Congressional seats, crowding in minority-heavy municipalities into single minority-majority districts.
The consequence of this gerrymandering was the disappearance of competitive House races. In 1998, there were 124 pure swing seats, nearly a third of the House.
Today, there are only 47 toss-ups left. The numbers of House seats needed to keep the majority will most likely stay in Republican hands, guaranteeing the GOP control of at least one chamber in Congress for the next eight years.
For future Democrats, however, the Republican ligature may actually be a blessing in disguise. Gerrymandering has so far prevented the Republican Party from going through the necessary party reform and revival. The Party has instead taken sanctuary in the South, particularly in overwhelmingly white, ethnically-homogeneous districts. What was the Republican launchpad for national victories in 2000 and 2004 has become the safety bunker for those in an embattled party.
Yet underneath all those bright red House seats lie trends that could undo the party’s current advantage.
A gerrymandered House is becoming one of the biggest deterrents to a new and revitalized GOP. Many Republicans want to make the necessary party changes, but the comfort and guarantee of a safe House and a hung Congress is sapping the party of the kind of urgency and incentive it needs to make those improvements.
Gerrymandering has essentially anchored the party to a single spectrum of ideology and is tugging the party further towards the right.
This behavior is not all that uncommon. When a political party fails to deliver on its promises, its base has a bad tendency to respond by recoiling to the fringe. Every American party has run to the right or to the left at one point in its lifetime. It is a marathon every partisan knows too well. The most recent occurred in 1968 when liberals within the Democratic Party, frustrated by the conservative mood of the country, angrily lurched to the left. The consequence was a badly divided Democratic Party that only accelerated a national realignment in favor of Republicans.
Conservatives today may well be tempted to do the same – to just vote with their gut and let all else be damned. Yet, if current demographic trends hold, such action could potentially usher a Democratic deluge. Compounding eight years of President Obama is the possibility of eight years of President Hillary Clinton. The Republican Party must tread lightly.
As a purist, arch-conservative mandate spreads its root in an identity troubled GOP, it will become ever harder for Republicans to win over the growing Hispanic and Asian electorate.
It will only become more difficult to change the rhetoric as time goes on. Voting patterns become habits which can then evolve into party affiliations. To stave off a national atrophy, Republican leaders must act while there is still political plasticity.
The writing on the wall is clear. Though gerrymandering will benefit Republicans in the short run, safe below the Mason-Dixon Line, in 10 years, it could cost the party an entire generation of voters.
A myopic view of future political reality and a decision to put short-term gratification over long-term growth has so far trumped the party’s necessity to reform.
At a time when the GOP must move to the middle on some issues, the party is instead dancing to a surreal and stubborn shuffle: to the right, to the right and further to the right.
Doo Lee is a College sophomore from Suwanee, Ga.
Cartoon by Doo Lee