A Stacked Deck for the GOP

It probably won’t make your day since it’s an analysis of how an extremist party continues to impose its will on the country, but Tom Schaller does a good job at the American Prospect of briskly summarizing and classifying the various ways in which the GOP has managed to expand its control over Congress and state and local governments.

Basically, he finds both structural and socio-economic reasons for a slight but surprisingly decisive Republican thumb on the scales of a country we think of as equally divided by party and ideology. They are all familiar (at least to readers of this blog), but not always easy to keep in mind simultaneously. The structural advantages with respect to Congress are the small-state domination of the U.S. Senate and the misappropriation of House seats (partly due to Republican voter “efficiency” and partly because of gerrymandering). And obviously, GOP small-state domination gives Republicans a disproportionate number of governorships and state legislatures they should control.

Schaller treats the “two electorates” problem that I talk about so much here as a socio-economic problem and he’s right insofar as the voters less likely to participate in non-presidential elections tend to be poorer and less “invested” in the status quo, and also more likely to suffer inconvenience in voting. He also notes that the perception that voters support Democratic issue positions is partly an illusion based on the heavy use of non-screened surveys of “adults” for issue polls. Likely voters skew older, whiter, and more Republican.

But Schaller argues the most important advantage Republicans enjoy is their happiness with government inaction, which is actually rather easy to produce if you control any of the key levers of government:

They are not just the “party of no,” opposing liberal initiatives. They are also the party of nothing—the party that is content to have government do nothing.

“Nothing” is the result American politics is best geared to deliver. Nothing is easy to achieve because of checks and balances in the American system and the generally awesome staying power of the status quo. If a series of attempts to change law or policy fail and nothing is done, the status quo “wins.” Without knowing anything about the details of various policy proposals, the degree of popular support and opposition for each of them, or which party and officials control which levers of government, you can generally place a safe bet on nothing happening.

And dysfunctional government is, of course, the gift that keeps on giving to the GOP, since it not only delivers many of the policy outcomes the party wants, but undermines faith in government, as we are seeing right now.

Schaller mentions one factor favoring the GOP electorally right now that may not be perpetually available: a Democratic hold on the White House that strengthens the already strong tendency for midterm elections to favor Republicans. The trick for Republicans is to pull off a trifecta in 2016 and then do enough damage to Obama policies and the composition of the judiciary as possible before midterms become negative referenda on their unpopular national stewardship. And the fear that could happen should be enough to dispel any Democratic temptation to take a dive in the presidential contest and finally get the monkey of White House incumbency off their backs.

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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.