Yesterday the Census Bureau announced the new distribution of House seats reflecting population data from its 2010 survey. As a number of news outlets have noted, the reapportionment combined with Republican gains in state legislatures and governorships last month have given an edge to the GOP. In total, Republicans have control over the redistricting of 196 Congressional seats, compared to 49 for Democrats — the rest will have to be done on a bipartisan basis.
While this would seem to benefit Republicans at first blush, it could be a hindrance for conservatives who are hoping for a Republican majority that governs as conservatives. The overarching criticism of the last Republican House (1995 – 2007) was that they came to change Washington but ended up becoming a part of it — embracing the culture of out of control spending and desperately clinging to power. There were a number of explanations for how this happened, but redistricting was a contributing factor to this decline. Republicans who felt their seats were protected developed an arrogant entitlement mentality and thought they could keep getting reelected as long they didn’t rock the boat. I’ll never forget listening to Beltway Republicans in the run-up to the 2006 midterm elections who were arguing that the GOP would maintain control of Congress, largely because of redistricting.
This is an area where the Tea Party movement could play an important role. If GOP members fear they may lose in the primary if they stray from conservative principles, then it will be a lot harder for incumbent Republicans to hide behind redistricting.