Feature

Redistricting to the Rescue

By From the December 2012 - January 2013 issue

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OBAMA WON THE WHITE HOUSE. Republicans won the House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate remained majority Democrat, though Republicans retained enough seats to filibuster. Is this a draw? It certainly looks a lot like where the dust settled after the 2010 election.

The Left wants to argue this is a replay of 2008. That was a year when Obama won with a seven-point margin. He was joined by a House in which Nancy Pelosi led a 256-seat Democrat majority and a Senate in which Harry Reid controlled 59 and then 60 Democrat votes.

It was a daunting challenge for the GOP. Republicans anticipated three or four likely Senate losses in 2010. They saw no possible pickup opportunities. The momentum was with Obama, Reid, and Pelosi, who were poised to change labor law, nationalize health care, enact cap-and-trade and/or an energy tax, and modify election laws to make resistance to the new order futile.

The actual 2010 election changed everything. It broke Obama’s momentum, gave Republicans a strong and united Reagan Republican majority in the House, and left them with 47 senators—enough to filibuster.

Let us remember that 2012 confirmed the status quo not of 2008, but of 2010—which weakened Obama.

A weakened Obama? Didn’t he just win re-election? Yes, he did. But the Obama looking out from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today knows that though he won 69.4 million votes in 2008, he won only 62.3 million in 2012—more than 7 million fewer votes. He only won because Romney pulled 1 million fewer votes than did John McCain. Obama’s “mandate” claim rings hollow.

Even worse, Obama won with a 7 percent margin against the war hero in 2008. This time around, facing the former governor of Massachusetts, he won only a three-point margin. Obama’s share of the popular vote fell 2.4 points, from 52.9 to 50.5 percent.

By contrast, when Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984, he increased his share of the vote from 50.7 to 58.8 percent and his margin of victory rose from 9.7 percent to 18.2 percent. Heck, even Bill Clinton saw his share of the vote rise, from 43 percent in 1992 to 49 percent in 1996. George W. Bush, too, increased his share of the national vote between elections, by three points, from 48 to 51 percent. Bush’s margin in the popular vote increased by 3.4 points. Obama’s declined four points.

Obama is now a lame duck president. In 2008, anyone picking a fight with him or needing his help looked at a possible eight years of his presidency. His time to wield power is now cut in half. And he can pass no law that a Republican House does not approve.

Mandate? He put forward no specifics. Avoided the vision thing. The budget he technically sent to Congress in 2012 did not receive a single vote from Democrats in the House or Senate. He conducted his campaign in such a way that his re-election means one thing: He has the backing of the American people to not be Mitt Romney, that guy who fires people and gives them cancer.

The Republican House is significantly stronger and more formidable today than it was two years ago. After the 2010 election, there were very real questions about the seriousness and longevity of a Republican majority that was swept in by the intense but perhaps temporary excitement of the Tea Party movement. Perhaps, as Democrats hoped and Republicans feared, many if not most of the freshmen elected in 2010 would recede with the tide in 2012.

Redistricting played a key role in preventing that from happening, and it is clear that Republicans wisely chose (or were perhaps lucky in) their landslide year of 2010. When the dust settled this November, the Republican majority lost only 10 of its 84 freshmen. Of those Republicans that did lose, five were casualties of Democrat redistricting. The 2010 landslide left Republicans with 29 governorships, control of 57 of the 99 state legislative bodies, a majority (3,941) of all state legislators, and perhaps most important, control of the House, Senate, and governorship in 24 states. This gave the GOP its greatest strength in redistricting battles since the 1920s. As a result, Republican state legislatures and governors in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin drew lines that allowed their 2010 gains to hold.

Winning control of the House in 2012 by a good margin strongly suggests the GOP will hold the House for the next decade. The 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 elections will be held using the same district maps in place this year—the ones that allowed a GOP majority to be re-elected even when a Democrat president won nationally.

In 2011, Obama yielded to the “Boehner rule,” an insistence by the Republican House that an increase in the debt ceiling would be granted only in exchange for a reduction in spending over the next decade of the same amount. The cost of Obama’s $2.5 trillion debt ceiling increase was a commitment to reduce federal spending by $2.5 trillion. Now Obama will be forced by his own profligacy to return hat in hand every month or quarter to trade things Boehner’s caucus wants—the now customary dollar for dollar toll and perhaps concessions on regulations.

Republicans’ understanding of the present correlation of forces in American politics is colored by their disappointment that they did not win control of the Senate and the presidency. This was a painful lost opportunity for America. Had Romney won the presidency and the GOP taken the Senate, Republicans could have passed Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan. This would have cut the top tax rate to 25 percent for businesses and individuals, reformed entitlements by block granting Medicaid and food stamps to the states (as Aid to Families with Dependent Children was during the 1996 welfare reform), and fixed Medicare by creating a premium support plan that would make costs sustainable through competition, not rationing. All of that must now wait until 2016.

Republicans must provide strong opposition at the national level to limit long-term damage from Obama’s remaining regulatory powers and the automatic pilot of entitlement spending. This will demonstrate to the American people that they are the alternative to the Democrats, not just the better tax collector for the welfare state.

The 24 states with Republican governors and state legislatures can actually enact pro-growth tax reform, school choice, Second Amendment protections, and tort reform, while reducing both spending and taxes, to demonstrate what a united Republican government could accomplish nationally. The 14 Democrat-controlled states, including California, Illinois, and Maryland, can show the world what Obama would do to the nation if Democrats ever regain the control they exercised in 2009 and 2010.

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About the Author

Grover G. Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform.