In 2014, a New Yorker headline posed the question: “Has Gerrymandering Made It Impossible for Democrats to Win the House?” It’s a well-worn left-wing rallying cry that reappears every election cycle. In fact, fast forward to the recent midterms, and a Washington Post column suggested that a Republican victory in the House was all but guaranteed because of newly drawn district maps.
But despite the Dems’ bruxism, Democrats aren’t innocent of drawing creatively weird district boundaries. It was their control of the New York Legislature and overreach in drawing district lines that resulted in court-drawn boundaries. That decision helped the GOP pick up enough new seats to trash the one occupied by Nancy Pelosi. The obligation to draw new voting districts is necessary to reflect shifting populations after every decennial census. But it was Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Elbridge Gerry — gerrymandering’s namesake — who back in 1812 carved out an unusual district with lines only Jackson Pollock could appreciate.
And so, despite their heritage of gerrymandering, Democrats now shout foul on the practice — claiming the creative boundaries are in fact allowing the legislators to choose their voters rather than the other way around. Fair point, despite the selective moral outrage. Stop for a moment and ask if gerrymandering is unfair, what of the lobbing of hand grenades into the opposing party’s primary to boost the chances of loony candidates running in the general election?
Millions were spent in GOP primaries by Democratic operatives to help nominate unelectable Republicans. Many of these 2022 Republican losses would have been winners if the GOP establishment-favored candidate beat out the Democrat-funded Trump water carriers in the primaries. What’s the ethical difference between drawing favorable maps versus operating behind enemy lines by funding weak opposition candidates? Same church, different pews.
And neither tactic is easy to reverse. If anything can be predicted, more extreme candidates on both sides who deserve zero credibility will be dressed up with commercials by dark money funders who want to provide the losers their 15 minutes of fame.
Examples of Democrats seeking to hand-pick their GOP challenger aren’t difficult to find. Many of the efforts have been reported on these pages.
This year, the Democrat-affiliated Senate Majority PAC funneled more than $3 million into the New Hampshire Republican Senate primary. The effort helped shift votes to Don Bolduc, who repeated rumors that schoolchildren are being allowed to identify as cats and use litter boxes. Mr. Bolduc won the primary and lost a squeaker to the flawed Democratic incumbent, Sen. Maggie Hassan.
In Maryland, the Democratic Governors Association promoted the weak Republican Dan Cox as “Trump’s hand-picked candidate for Maryland governor.” And in Illinois, Democrats spent some $30 million to push Trump favorite Darren Bailey across the primary finish line, ensuring a Democratic win in the race to replace Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Deploying campaign materials by Democratic operatives to elevate second-tier GOP primary candidates is not new.
In the 2012 Republican primary for a Missouri Senate seat, incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill supported the candidacy of then-GOP Rep. Todd Akin for the slot. You may remember Mr. Akin and his comment about “legitimate rape.” By Ms. McCaskill’s own admission, her campaign “spent more money for Todd Akin in the last two weeks of the primary than he spent on his whole primary campaign.”
In the recent election, Democrats had more money and found they could afford to play in both parties’ primaries, helping to pick their opponent. And the GOP, with control of more state legislatures, had more opportunities to draw favorable district lines to pick their voters.
Leading up to 2024, both sides will do what they can to gain an electoral advantage. And unlike what left-wingers like to claim, Republicans don’t have the market cornered on dirty politics. In fact, it’s Democrats who started it.
• Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington.