No House GOP Mandate, Either

To hear John Boehner, Republican spinners and big elements of the MSM the last few days, the election ratified the 2010-2012 status quo, meaning that the Speaker and other GOP leaders had no reason to be any more reasonable now than they did on November 5. Boehner’s distant predecessor Newt Gingrich went further, suggesting that the Speaker claim a “split mandate,” with House GOPers enjoying as much legitimacy as the president in their post-election wishes.

There’s only one problem with that planted axiom: House Republicans only won a majority of seats because of gerrymandering. WaPo’s Aaron Blake reports:

Democratic House candidates appear to have won more of the popular vote than their Republican counterparts on Tuesday, despite what looks as though it will be a 35-seat GOP majority.

According to numbers compiled by the Post’s great Dan Keating, Democrats have won roughly 48.8 percent of the House vote, compared to 48.47 percent for Republicans.

Despite losing the popular vote, Republicans are set to have their second-biggest House majority in 60 years and their third-biggest since the Great Depression.

The numbers seem to back up what we’ve been talking about on this blog for a while: Redistricting drew such a GOP-friendly map that, in a neutral environment, Republicans have an inherent advantage.

There are some qualifiers about this take, including the practice of some states of not bothering to report the actual vote in House districts with unopposed candidates, and some quirky results from the “top-two runoff” states of California and Louisiana, where you had congressional “general elections” between two candidates from the same party.

But still, the idea–which was implicit in a lot of “centrist” Election Night coverage–of wise independent American voters deliberately choosing a GOP House to counter the Democratic White House and Senate, forcing the two parties to the table to ratify a Grand Deficit Reduction Bargain, is largely a chimera. You can make a credible argument that would be good for the country, but that is not what “the country” decided. Democrats won the national popular vote narrowly but unambiguously. Republicans are legitimately claiming the spoils of their success in redistricting, but a “split mandate” is an entirely irrational way to interpret the results.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.