How gerrymandering in suburbs is fueling the rise in the GOP's far-right extremism

How gerrymandering in suburbs is fueling the rise in the GOP's far-right extremism
Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas speaking at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, Gage Skidmore

As the 2022 midterm elections approach, Republican lawmakers across the country are scrambling to redraw congressional district maps in hopes of making them more uncompetitive and, subsequently, safer for the party's candidates. So, how can they achieve this goal?

According to HuffPost's Travis Waldron, veering further to the right will likely do the trick. Waldron pointed to Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and the political battle unfolding in Texas as a prime example of what is transpiring in many areas of the United States. While the Republican lawmaker appeared to seamlessly breeze through his first campaign two years ago, Waldron notes that things aren't as simple this time around.

Although Crenshaw is widely considered to be one of the most conservative lawmakers in the House, the Republican candidates looking to unseat him have more radicalized far-right belief systems. In short, Crenshaw is being depicted as the type of Republican lawmaker to straddle the fence; a moderate-centrist perspective the radicalized far-right has no tolerance for.

Waldron wrote:

"To hear his opponents tell it, Crenshaw is the personification of Republican heresy: Although he supported a Texas lawsuit that sought to overturn the election in late 2020, Crenshaw has since denounced conspiracy theorists who said that the election was 'stolen' from Trump. He’s also criticized the idea that sham audits, like those the Arizona GOP and Republicans elsewhere have conducted, will lead to Trump’s imminent return to the White House. 'Republicans like Dan Crenshaw,' one of his right-wing challengers told The Texas Tribune recently, are 'why we allowed ... the election to be stolen.'"

So, how are far-right radicals tapping in to steer elections in their favor? By incorporating what Waldron describes as "suburban gerrymandering." Waldron explained how this works:

"Throughout the current redistricting cycle, Republicans have largely sought to shore up seats they already hold, by increasing the proportion of Republican voters in those districts, instead of creating new ones. And in Texas and elsewhere, their main targets have been seats like Crenshaw’s — districts that include substantial suburban areas that have trended, both demographically and politically, in favor of Democrats over the last decade. As in past rounds of redistricting, that approach is almost certain to dilute the votes of Black, Hispanic and other minority voters who have driven suburban population booms in Texas and other states."

Michael Li, an expert on gerrymandering and congressional redistricting at Brennan Center for Justice, shed light on the Republican perspective and the goal they are trying to reach.

“In places like Texas, Republicans drew maps like they felt they had to neutralize the suburbs,” said Li. “That’s what Republicans did across the country: They created a lot of rural-suburban districts. They broke up the suburbs, and that’s going to affect the kinds of people that are elected."

While these types of practices raise ethical questions and concerns, the problem, according to Alex Keena, —a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who researches the impact of gerrymandering— is that they are legal.

“This is just the obvious consequence,” said Keena. “It’s basically legal now."

As the political population of suburban Republicans continues to diminish, Republican lawmakers like Crenshaw will be left with limited platform options. The obvious alternative: lean further to the far right or jeopardize the possibility of re-election.

“You can see a world in which they become a little bit more conservative,” Li said. “Because they have to win the primary, and the primary electorates in these newly drawn districts are much more conservative."

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