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  • Writer's pictureJohn Brage

Here's What's Up - part 3

For decades, the former Confederacy was a part of the Solid South. In election after election, those states supported the Democratic candidate about 90% of the time between 1880 and 1960. The election of 1964 demonstrated a change of alignment. The election of 1968 demonstrated that it was about race. The election of 1972 demonstrated that the GOP had taken effective control of those states.

Moving forward, the elections of 1976 forward evidenced the GOP's strength in the South. While Jimmy Carter did well in the South in 1976, he was a Southerner. Ronald Reagan swept the South in 1980 and 1984. Bill Clinton, another Southerner, managed to win 8 states in the South total in 1992 and 1996. George W. Bush swept the South in both 2000 and 2004. It was the 2008 election that sent shockwaves of panic through the GOP. Barack Obama won 2 Southern states despite the fact that he was a). not a Southerner as were Carter and Clinton and b). a black man. In 2012, he won another state. This was supposed to be possible. The GOP had believed it had a lockdown on the South, but such was clearly not the case.

The proportion of white voters in the US was shrinking in every state. Almost universally, the proportion of Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters was growing. The Southern Strategy's focus on white voters at the expense of Black voters was costing it Hispanic and Asian voters as well. And these groups disproportionately supported the Democrats. Enter Karl Rove.

Rove had been a campaign strategist and advisor to President George W. Bush. He was part of a group that formulated a long-term plan to boost the electability of Conservatives nationally. That plan targeted states, particularly in the 2010 election cycle. It pumped money into obscure races for state legislature seats. The theory was that every 10 years the US conducts a census. Once the census is complete, the several states determine the boundaries of their Congressional districts. Those boundaries had to be voted on by state legislatures. Whichever party controlled a state legislature controlled (for the most part) the creation of the boundaries. In the 2010 elections, the GOP went from controlling 14 statehouses to controlling 25, including those of key swing states. The Democrats lost a whopping 63 seats in the House of Representatives (and its majority) and 6 seats in the U.S. Senate. This permitted gerrymandering on a previously-unseen level. While this practice had been implemented by both parties historically, the GOP utilized it to leverage its comparatively small constituency nationally. While the trend is Presidential elections favored the Democrats in terms of popular vote, from 1992 through 2020 the GOP candidate only won the popular vote one time (2004). However, the GOP candidate also won the elections on 2000 and 2016 despite losing the popular votes. This allowed it to nominate a large number of people to the federal bench. This would pay huge dividends.

In 2019, the Supreme Court decided Rucho v Common Cause. It held that "partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts." Any restrictions on the practice would have to be enacted by state legislatures. The Supreme Court would not intervene on Constitutional grounds. in 2013, the Court decided Shelby County v. Holder. It held that the "pre-clearance" requirement of VRA65, whereby states with a history of voter discrimination had to get approval of new election procedures from the Department of Justice before enacting them, was removed. It stated that the standards for determining a violation of VRA65 were too dated to be Constitutionally permitted now. It called upon Congress to pass new standards to update the ones then in use. However, VRA65 had been reauthorized by Congress in 2006.

Predictably the trends addressed by these decisions were shaping our national politics. The demographic shift whereby non-whites comprised a greater and greater proportion of voters nationally placed a significant barrier to the GOP's ability to win elections. It pushed back through targeting the state offices that would enable massive gerrymandering and by appointing judges to the Supreme Court who they believed, correctly, would be sympathetic to its cause. All of this set the stage for what we are now seeing with President Trump and the messaging of his campaign.

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