‘Partisan Warfare’: How Republicans Took Control Of Congress by Knowledge@Wharton
Author David Daley discusses his book, “Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy”
The business of running the country changed with the 2010 elections, according to a new book by Salon Editor-in-Chief David Daley. Well-planned, carefully constructed strategies that changed the boundaries of several key voting districts helped the Republican party gain control of Congress. Daley stopped by the Knowledge@Wharton Show on SiriusXM channel 111 to talk about the book, Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy.
Knowledge@Wharton: Gerrymandering, the subject of your book, is a process a lot of people may not understand. It starts at the local level, which affects the state level, and the state level affects the national level.
David Daley: That’s exactly right. It’s a long process. Essentially what happens is, every 10 years the Constitution mandates a re-drawing of all state legislative and congressional districts after the census. The census is taken in years that end in zero, so elections that take place in years ending in zero mean more. They reverberate throughout the course of the next decade.
What’s kind of amazing is that gerrymandering has been going on for as long as we’ve had a republic. You can trace it back to 1790 and Gov. Elbridge Gerry in Massachusetts. That’s where it gets its name. It has been the source of all sorts of political chicanery and incumbent protection, or shifting a line to try and get back at a political enemy, for years. Both sides have done it.
What happened in 2010 and in 2011, however, is completely different from any other redistricting in our history. In part, because [conservative nonprofit group] Citizens United unleashes a flood of dark money into the system that allows the Republican Party to devise and execute a brilliant plan and a big political bargain. They go out and spend $30 million on local races in 2010 with the express design of trying to flip state legislative chambers in states where they’d be able to maximize control of redistricting that following year — in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, New York. They target local races with big national dollars. The technology of mapping has gotten so much better thanks to computers that it is exact and precise in a way it never has been before. There’s so much information about us that you can add on to this program called Maptitude, which is what legislators and strategists use to draw these lines. You can add on not only all the census information, all the public voting records, but you can go out and buy all the private data sets that are available based on the information that we give up freely to marketers online every single day. This wasn’t even available in 2000 or 1990 to this extent. So, what happens in 2010 is unheard of. It’s a really well thought out and well executed plan. And it’s had far-reaching consequences.
“… Elections that take place in years ending in zero mean more. They reverberate throughout the course of the next decade.”
Knowledge@Wharton: What is dark money?
Daley: This is political money that is contributed to a political action group, and you can’t trace the source of it back. It’s essentially anonymous money, and that’s what makes it dangerous. The campaign finance reforms of the 1970s after Watergate were designed to at least have transparency so that you would know where the money was coming from. In 2010, the Supreme Court rules in the Citizens United vs. FEC case that that’s unconstitutional. Corporations can spend unlimited amounts, and it does not all have to be explained away or made clear where that money is coming from.
Knowledge@Wharton: You write about how tiny Westmoreland County, just to the east of Pittsburgh, was an important area in the state of Pennsylvania.
Daley: It was. If you go back to 2010, the Democrats held a really small edge in the state legislature. When the Republicans who designed this plan, called REDMAP, tried to figure out which districts to target in order to try and flip the legislature that fall, one of them was a seat belonging to a 13-term legislator named David Levdansky, who ran the finance committee in Harrisburg. He was one of the people they took down with a really aggressive three-week negative ad barrage. It was hundreds of thousands of dollars at the very end of a campaign that he just never saw coming.
The Republicans were able to take control of the House in 2010. They had the Senate. Tom Corbett gets elected governor of Pennsylvania. Those are the three prongs of redistricting: the legislature, the Senate and the governor. If you control all three pieces, you can pretty much do whatever you want with those lines without the other party having any say at all. So, the Republicans re-draw the lines in Pennsylvania, and the first election that is conducted on those lines is in 2012. Now, 2012 is a big Democratic year. Barack Obama is re-elected president with 332 electoral votes. He carries the state of Pennsylvania by several hundred thousand votes. A total of 100,000 more voters cast their ballots for Democratic House candidates than Republican candidates in the aggregate. Yet the end result of this is that 13 Republicans are elected to Congress and five Democrats. That means 51% of the vote equates to 28% of the seats in Pennsylvania.
Knowledge@Wharton: What was the response by the Democratic Party? Did they not see this coming?
Daley: They didn’t see it coming, but it’s a catastrophic strategic failure on the part of the Democratic Party. In some ways, this idea could have been sitting out there for anyone to do.
Knowledge@Wharton: If we’re talking about every 10 years when the census comes about, let’s play this out. The year 2020 is not only going to be an election year, it will be a presidential election year.
Daley: It could conceivably be better for the Democrats because they tend to see better turnout in presidential years than they do in off-years. However, this is a state and a local issue as well as a big level. The Democrats don’t simply have to take back Congress in order to change this system. They have to win back legislative districts and legislative chambers across the country. And they have to do this on the maps that the Republicans drew. The system is locked and knotted up in really complicated ways at a variety of levels. It’s going to be really, really hard for the Democrats to undo this.
“Gerrymandering has been going on for as long as we’ve had a republic…. It has been the source of all kinds of political chicanery.”
Knowledge@Wharton: Was there anything illegal in all of these moves at the local and state levels?
Daley: Gerrymandering is not illegal. No. I would say that whenever courts have gotten a look at these districts, they have been frustrated by them. But it’s not that the strategists involved did anything illegal at the national level. However, in North Carolina there was a case involving the racial fairness of these lines. A court mandated that