Question 1): Michigan Democrats won control of both chambers of the Michigan Legislature in the Nov. 8 general election, but by narrow margins — 20-18 in the state Senate and 56-54 in the state House of Representatives. They also earned a majority of the state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, 7-6. A major factor in their victories were the redrawn districts following the 2020 census. For the first time ever, these new maps were drafted by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC), instead of by the Legislature, Governor, and the courts, which had always been the case historically, dating back to 1837. Democrats had always claimed that the reason they hadn’t been successful before now was that they were the victims of “gerrymanders” concocted by majority Republicans in the Legislature. In most elections over the past two decades (and even before then) Democrats were shown to have won the “aggregate” popular vote in Michigan — the grand total of votes for Democrats for the 110 seats in the state House, the 38 seats in the state Senate, and the number of seats in Congress allotted to Michigan (whether that was 19 seats, 18, 16, 15, or 14 heretofore) — yet in almost every instance their proportion of seats actually won in each of these chambers lagged well behind what the GOP got, so much so that Republicans invariably wound up with majorities in the state House and Senate and in Michigan’s U.S. House delegation. Democrats argued that all they needed was “fair maps” that gave them a chance to win a number of seats roughly commensurate with the aggregate popular vote. It appears that is what they finally got in 2022, and they produced their desired result. So, does this development lay to rest the debate over whether gerrymandering was the main reason why the GOP was able to win control of these three delegations over such a long period of time? Has an historic injustice finally been rectified?
Answer 1): According to longtime Democratic activist Walt Sorg, the answer is a resounding YES. Sorg was a principal in the Voters Not Politicians (VNP) organization that mounted the petition drive to put a proposal on the 2018 statewide ballot that created the MICRC. This proposal was approved in 2018 by the state’s voters, leading to the MICRC maps that facilitated this year’s results. Here’s what Sorg said after the Nov. 8 votes were counted: “Our goal at VNP was to have elections reflect the voters rather than the needs of the party drawing the maps. The outcome in the Legislature and Congressional races almost exactly reflects the leanings of Michigan voters: Democrats had a small margin in votes for the state House, state Senate and Congress which gave them narrow margins in the three caucuses:
* House 50.55% – 49.25% (Dems won 50.91% of the seats, the narrowest majority possible)
* Senate 50.53% – 49.11% (Dems won 52.63% of the seats, the narrowest majority possible)
* Congress 49.92% – 47.61% (Dems won 53.85% of the seats, the narrowest majority possible)
(Percentages reflect total vote including votes for third-party candidates)
(Data source: Michigan Department of State)”
But if Sorg’s argument is sauce for the goose, there is also sauce for the gander. On a national level, Republicans can make the same argument that Sorg makes in Michigan but with the GOP as “victims” of massive gerrymandering nationally by the Democrats, particularly in states like California, New York, Illinois, and Maryland. The Wall Street Journal put it this way in a post-Nov. 8 assessment of what happened in this year’s general election across the country: “What If Republicans wind up with, say, (only) 221 seats in the U.S. House? That equates to 50.8% of the chamber’s 435 member total. Yet, in House races overall, the popular vote for Republicans is beating Democrats by 4.4 percentage points, per the latest data. So does this mean U.S. democracy is structurally rigged? No, because the “House popular vote” is not a ‘thing’ that, structurally speaking, exists. Rather, the U.S. House has 435 races in 435 separate districts. ‘Twas ever thus. Yet for years, (Democrats) have pointed to similar figures in the other direction (Michigan being a prime example) as proof that democracy is fundamentally broken.”
“Has gerrymandering made it impossible for Democrats to win the House?” That headline ran in the very liberal New Yorker magazine in 2014. Even though Democrats later won control of the U.S. House in 2018 and 2020, a writer in the liberal New York Times wrote: “Gerrymandering and geography means that Democrats need to win a substantial majority in the House popular vote to take the gavel.”
The WSJ points out that complaints about the “Senate popular vote” (or the electoral college) make even less sense. The existence of states is not a matter of partisan gerrymandering. It’s the result of a negotiated agreement between small states and large seats in 1787 to form a “more perfect union.” Raw vote totals don’t always line up with political outcomes, but the gaps vary, and one cause is simple geographical sorting. Democrats can run up their margins in Manhattan and L.A., but that doesn’t win Senate seats in Oklahoma (And the same can be said in Michigan where Democrats have always run up huge majorities in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Flint and Lansing that don’t win seats in marginal districts in suburban and rural enclaves in outstate Michigan). Uncontested races can skew totals, as can jungle primaries (in some other states), since two Democrats (and no Republicans) might qualify for the general election.
For the record, Republicans will have 51.4% of the House vote (which means they should have nearly 230 seats in the U.S. House, not 221), versus 47% for the Democrats, according to the Cook Political Report, although late California votes may narrow that gap slightly. If the GOP in 2024 makes more gains among minority voters in heavily Democratic districts, that could push its vote total without flipping seats. The WSJ concludes that “This isn’t a “crisis of democratic legitimacy.” It’s the way our constitutional democracy has always worked.”
Question 2): As former President Donald TRUMP launches his comeback bid for the Oval Office, he is decidedly not the same candidate he was in 2016 when he first came down that giant escalator in Trump Towers. Given Trump’s recent record of losing 58% of the governor candidates that he endorsed (and a number of key U.S. Senate races as well), is Trump fatally wounded?
Answer 2)): Mixing a few metaphors, Trump does not think he’s a wounded duck or a spent bullet. He will go on forever unless stopped by the voters. He’ll never be deterred until the electorate turns off the bubble machine. Just as he did in 2016, Trump is likely to face a number of challengers for the GOP nomination, but this time out, will he be able to win a plurality of the votes in a crucial number of states because his opposition splits up their vote while he retains his core base support? Remember, to win a presidential primary in a particular state you do not need to break the magical 50% threshold. On the contrary, it’s a plurality that candidates will pursue and, if the field is crowded, the bar for Trump will be pretty low. However, Trump is coping with a diminishing minority of base Republican voters who support him. In 2016, that core support was pegged as high as 35% of core followers who would follow him to the edge of doom and never desert him, but that percentage is now down to less than 20%, which means it may be a lot tougher to get pluralities in enough states to win the nomination in 2024. It may depend on whether the high rollers in the GOP can consolidate their support behind one or two credible alternatives to Trump early on in the electoral process before the primaries start in early 2024. Their choice in 2016 was Jeb Bush, which proved to be a big mistake. They can’t afford to make that miscalculation again.