Control of Congress in this year’s midterm elections is within the GOP’s grasp, but Republican prospects for retaking the Senate and the White House in 2016 could easily fade if the party tilts too far to the right, according to Andy Friedman of the Washington Update.
In his latest report, the political analyst argues that the same forces that currently favor the GOP in midterm elections also potentially limit how far it can go, and similarly goes far to explain why partisanship is the worst it has been in the three decades Friedman has been in Washington.
The key reason for today’s deadlocked politics stems from gerrymandering, the system by which statehouses draw up political districts to maximize electoral gains for the party in power in state capitals.
Because the GOP dominated state legislatures at the time of the 2010 census, they created electoral districts maximizing safe seats for Republicans, just as Democrats did in the state legislatures they controlled. In either case, residual seats not winnable by the party in power ended up as safe seats for the weaker party.
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The result, Friedman says, is that “most House members do not need to be concerned about winning the general election” but rather must focus instead on staving off any primary challenges.
“If a Republican incumbent is not viewed as sufficiently conservative, then he or she may face a successful primary challenge from a right-wing candidate (say, a member of the Tea Party). A Democratic incumbent can face a similar challenge from the left,” Friedman writes.
Because of this ideological polarization, the parties can seldom compromise except in cases of what Friedman terms “forcing events,” such as the fiscal cliff or the debt ceiling, occasions where the consequences of inaction are intolerable.
Important issues that don’t rise to that level, in contrast, operate in today’s supercharged partisan terms.
For example, the Senate can pass compromise legislation on immigration reform but get blocked in the House; though Republicans are eager to broaden their base to include Hispanics, House GOP members in safe seats that often don’t contain many Hispanics subject themselves to a primary challenge if they buck opposition to what conservatives call “amnesty.”