HILL: Gerrymandering can help restore the middle in American politics

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., talks with reporters on Capitol Hill, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Maybe everyone is looking at redistricting wrong.

Uber-partisan gerrymandering may have the unintended possibility of reconstituting and energizing a critical mass of voters who used to be called “moderates” by both sides. As the two major political parties create gerrymandered districts, they create districts where the most extreme candidate gets elected simply because the more extreme voters show up in droves in primaries ― and most level-headed, critical-thinking, moderate voters simply don’t.

Less than 20% of registered voters ever show up to vote in primaries in the first place. Assuming half are Republican and half are Democrat, less than 10% of the population are making the decision on either side about who the rest of us will have to vote for in any given election.

The ones who do vote in primaries are typically the more fervent, the more doctrinally “pure” who want to see their side gain majority control. A severely gerrymandered district is the perfect sandbox in which a disruptive, doctrinaire politico who wants to cause mischief in public policy can play. They believe, rightly so, when they get elected, they will never lose so they say and do whatever they want with impunity.

However, 80%+ of American voters are not overly partisan at all. They really don’t like any sort of partisanship; they despise finger-pointing and blame-shifting makes them angry. They don’t like to see elected officials many consider to be “nuts” shutting down the government or rallying anti-Jewish supporters inside the Capitol.

They want to find a way to get rid of them all, regardless of party affiliation. For the past quarter-century, they have had no way to vent their dissatisfaction and vote them out of office.

However, there may be a way in the more extreme gerrymandered districts.

If both political parties and their consultants and strategists wanted to get rid of such “nuts” because they are doing more harm to their brand than good — and they are — they could field moderate candidates who can win general elections in the fall, not in the spring.

It also might be one way to save the Republic from tearing itself apart.

Both Democrat Rashida Tlaib and Republican Matt Gaetz are almost universally recognized and reviled by many today. Both come from “safe” gerrymandered districts. Hopefully, not everyone in their district is as extreme as either one of them ― if they are, then we are in real trouble.

Consider what could happen in 2024 when both win congressional primaries since it is next to impossible for a moderate to defeat them in their respective parties. Given the virulent public antisemitism espoused by Tlaib, the Democratic Party should find it very difficult to support her. They may have to distance themselves and decline to support her with national party money. They may have to tell the independent spending committee community that they were no longer going to support her candidacy and the money would dry up overnight.

If a highly-respected moderate Republican or unaffiliated candidate could be found to run in the general election against her, a combination of moderate Democrats who just can’t vote for her hate-filled antisemitism plus moderate Republicans and independents might be enough to win in November, 2024. Especially if money dries up for her campaign and national money supports the challenger ― 95% of campaigns are won by the candidate with the most money behind them anyway.

Given the disgust most Republicans feel towards Matt Gaetz for his role in effectively shutting down Congress in the face of the horrific Hamas attack on Israel, if the national party decides to rightly withhold support of his candidacy, a coalition of moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents might decide to vote for a highly-respected moderate Democrat or independent in the general election. “After all,” many voters in his Florida congressional district might be saying today: “Anyone would be better than Matt Gaetz!”

Redistricting has its advantages for the majority party in the state legislature, that is a given. But when extreme partisan gerrymandering produces elected officials who are so far out of the mainstream of either established party, there has to be way clever campaign strategists could help get true citizen-politicians elected who will do the nation’s work in a serious, sober manner instead of grandstanding and preening for the cameras.

It may be a pipe-dream and most probably is. However, once both political parties realize it is better for them to help elect moderate independent leaders in the fall to replace the “nuts” on the other side, we will see sanity return to politics soon rather than never.