Both parties extol competition — until it applies to them

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Republicans profess an abiding belief in competition: The economy suffers, they say, when government interferes with the free market. In a different vein, Democrats also champion competition: Break up monopolies and price fixers.

So, competition is great — except when it affects them, Democrats and Republicans alike.

As the post-census redistricting of congressional districts is almost complete, both parties are relieved. Democrats who a year ago feared with so many Republican-controlled state governments, they could lose a net of eight to ten seats through gerrymandering, instead discover redistricting is a political wash. Republicans are pleased that they’ve locked in more safe seats for the rest of the decade.

The New York Times headlined a recent analysis: “A potential rarity in American politics: A fair congressional map.”

It was fair in the eyes of most incumbents in uncompetitive seats, but less fair to a lot of voters who will have little voice in the general election. It’s likely to produce a 2023 House that’s even more bitterly polarized.

Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute, says obviously in safe seats the action will be in primaries “where there is a centrifugal force to the extremes.” Next year’s House, he believes, “will be even more poisonous than it is now.” (He told me the extremes in the Republican party are much larger and more extreme: “It’s more like a cult.”)

Alan Abramowitz, a congressional scholar at Emory University, says it’s really about deeply polarized political parties, noting it’s not much better in the Senate.

The Senate has become a clown show; still, it’s better for more candidates having to reach out for votes from members of the other party and independents.

There still are a few state maps outstanding, principally Ohio and Florida. The contours, however, are set.

The Cook Report’s David Wasserman, who meticulously follows redistricting and analyzes the new maps, told me there were a little more than 50 House seats in 2020 that were competitive, decided by five points or less. He calculates there will be closer to 30 this year. Reuters, using a data mapping tool, came to a similar conclusion: competitive seats dropping from 62 to 41.

That means more than 90 percent of House races are decided before a single vote is cast. Much of that has to do with population patterns, but it’s exacerbated by partisan gerrymandering.

For Republicans, the most egregious were: Texas, with the emphasis on solidifying their incumbents; Georgia, and Tennessee. The states where Democrats controlled the process — like New York, Illinois and Maryland — skewed redistricting heavily for their side.

Michael Li, of the of the Brennan Center for Justice, offers illustrations. In Texas, if Democrats get 58 percent of the overall congressional votes, he told me, they would only get 37 percent of the seats.

Specifics abound. Beth Van Duyne represents a suburban Fort Worth district; she barely won last time, and it went for Biden by six points. Trump won her gerrymandered new district by 15 points. Fort Bend, a populous, prosperous and diverse county near Houston, once a Republican stronghold, went for Biden 55 percent to 44 percent — so the Republican state legislature sliced it in two, to the GOP’s benefit.

Mr. Li says it’s the same story, with a different spin, in New York. Democrats now enjoy a 19 to 8 margin in the congressional delegation; the state will lose a seat, and the Democrats’ new map favors them in 22 of 26 districts, or 85 percent of the seats. Biden carried the state with 61 percent of the vote.

There are two takeaways from this.

One is to accentuate what has become a core of House electoral politics — being “primaried.” Both Republicans and Democrats in uncompetitive districts — the vast majority — worry about a primary challenge, which usually comes from the right for the GOP and from the left for Democrats.

The other is that the 2023 House — likely to be run by Republicans — will be even more divisive, with the radical wings in ascendancy: the Rashida Tlaibs and Cori Bushes for the Democrats and the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Jim Jordans on the Republican side.

There is a way to at least mitigate this: Independent or nonpartisan commissions, taking redistricting away from partisan legislatures. Such commissions have been adopted by ten states, and the maps drawn up by these commissions genuinely have been fair.

But a lot of politicians like it better when they choose their voters more than voters choosing their politicians.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags 2022 midterm elections anticompetition domestic extremism Elections Far-left politics Far-right politics Gerrymandering incumbent protection Political geography political polarization primary challenge Redistricting in the United States

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