GOP Gearing Up To Gerrymander Again

Getty Images and TPM Illustration

Nearly a decade ago, Republicans launched REDMAP, an audacious bid to win key statehouses and governorships in order to give themselves control over the redistricting process that followed the 2010 Census, so they could gerrymander district lines in their favor.

The project succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, giving them a major edge in successive election cycles.

Now, they’re looking to do it again.

The GOP has launched its first ever national group focused exclusively on how congressional and state legislative maps are drawn, with an eye on the next round of redistricting, which will follow the 2020 Census. And they have help from deep-pocketed, state-based super PACs devoted to holding onto their gains.

Last September, Republicans created the National Republican Redistricting Trust (NRRT) as an umbrella group for its redistricting plans—and an answer to Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which aims to give Democrats a louder voice in the redistricting process this time around.

The NRRT bills itself as the hub for a 50-state effort “solely focused on redistricting legal and data matters,” freeing up other GOP entities like the state legislative and congressional campaign committees to “focus on winning races and expanding their Republican majorities.” It says it plans to raise $35 million by 2020. (A spokeswoman didn’t respond when asked how much it had pulled in so far. Holder told the New York Times in February that his group had raised a bit over half of the $30 million it hopes to have by the same date.)

The group will work closely with the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which masterminded REDMAP. In 2015, it launched REDMAP 2020, which aims to repeat the GOP’s success last time at winning statehouses and governorships in key redistricting battlegrounds. REDMAP 2020 initially had a $125 million fundraising goal through the 2022 cycle, but Matt Walter, the RSLC’s president, told TPM in a Thursday phone call that the number would balloon to counter Democratic efforts.

“That number was set in advance of this effort that has been robust and well-funded and highly focused by the left, so the commitment to match that by Republicans, conservatives and the right of center world is imperative,” Walter said.

“We see a variety of areas where the left of center world is focused on redistricting: state level offices beyond the legislative level, the advancement of ballot initiatives, and the courts as well,” Walter added. “The field of engagement and connection points have expanded.”

In addition to this centralized effort, there are local groups like #ProjectRedTX, a super PAC run by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s former campaign manager that recently pulled in $500,000 from a single donor.

The group did not respond to TPM’s request for comment, but its website features a pledge “to make sure that those that seek to turn Texas into a leftist haven cannot get a foothold by mis-using the redistricting process.”

Last time around, in 2010, Republicans poured money into winning control of key redistricting battlegrounds like Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Virginia. Then, they used that control to draw district lines in their favor in those statehouses and in Congress. The result was to skew political outcomes in each of last three elections: In 2012, for instance, Democratic congressional candidates got over 1 million more votes that Republicans, but, thanks to gerrymandering, the GOP came out with 33 more seats.

That gerrymander also means Republicans have key advantages baked in for next time, as David Daley, the author of “Ratfucked,” an account of the GOP’s most recent redistricting master plan, told TPM.

“Republicans are really sitting pretty,” said Daley, now the communications director for the anti-gerrymandering group Fair Vote. “A blue wave really is going to have to be a blue tsunami in these states. And it’s going to take two of them. It’s not going to be enough for Democrats to have a blue wave in 2018; they’re going to need to replicate it in 2020.”

Republicans sound unconcerned by charges that they’re planing to once again enthusiastically rig the system in their favor. For one thing, they note that Democrats have gerrymandered on their own behalf in blue states like Maryland and Illinois. A brief launch memo for the NRRT devotes a page to criticizing Obama for denouncing GOP gerrymandering, after using redistricting to create a more favorable map for himself while serving in the Illinois legislature.

Republicans could still be stymied, in part, by the Supreme Court, which is considering three major redistricting cases that could impose limits on how extreme partisan gerrymanders can be.

Voting experts agree that the courts are the best hope for Democrats and those who want less partisan maps. But they caution that the lawsuits against the last round of maps wound through the courts for years. In some states, 2018 could be the fourth cycle in which voters cast ballots in districts that courts have deemed unconstitutional.

As Holder has said, “success” for Democrats going into the next two cycles is primarily a matter of shattering GOP trifecta control of state legislatures and governorships. For Republicans, it means painting an already-red national map several shades darker.

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