Political Extremism and the Decline in Competitive Districts

Terrific Shane Goldmacher deep dive, focused on Texas and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, on how the decline of competitive districts empowers the extremes and is going to make governing more difficult. This is also a story about the internal fragmentation of the Republican party. Some excerpts:

The new lines mean Mr. Crenshaw now has a vanishingly slim chance of losing to a Democrat in the next decade. The only political threat would have to come from the far right — which, as it happens, is already agitating against him.

All across the nation, political mapmakers have erected similarly impenetrable partisan fortresses through the once-in-a-decade redrawing of America’s congressional lines….

“What the future of the Republican Party should be is people who can make better arguments than the left,” Mr. Crenshaw said in an interview. Yet in his new district, he will only need to make arguments to voters on the right, and the farther right.

When primaries are the only campaigns that count, candidates are often punished for compromise. The already polarized parties are pulled even farther apart. Governance becomes harder.

The dynamic can be seen playing out vividly in and around Mr. Crenshaw’s district….

He has especially sparred with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, who, in the kind of political coincidence that is rarely an accident, found herself at a recent rally in Mr. Crenshaw’s district, declaring, “It is time to embrace the civil war in the G.O.P.”…

In 2022, zero Texas Republicans are left defending particularly competitive seats. They were all turned safely, deeply red.

Not having competitive elections is not good for democracy,” said Representative Lizzie Fletcher, a moderate Democrat whose Houston-area district was also overhauled. To solidify neighboring G.O.P. seats, Republican mapmakers stuffed a surplus of Democratic voters — including from the old Crenshaw seat — into her district, the Texas 7th.

That seat has a long Republican lineage. George H.W. Bush once occupied it. Under the new lines, the district voted like Massachusetts in the presidential election.

For Ms. Fletcher, that means any future challenges are likely to come from the left. The political middle that helped her beat a Republican incumbent in 2018 is, suddenly, less relevant. “There is a huge risk,” she said, “that people will feel like it doesn’t matter whether they show up.”…

The contest is the first primary of 2022 that the McCarthy-aligned PAC has intervened in, as some McCarthy allies privately worry that the glut of new, deep-red Republican seats could complicate his speakership bid and governance of the House, should Republicans win a majority.

“Does this create incentives to avoid governing? It clearly — clearly, that’s the case,” Mr. Crenshaw said. But he said it is hard to discern the impact of those incentives versus others, like social media amplifying outrage and the increasing sorting of Americans into tribes….

But the influence of lopsided districts is not necessarily that the more right-wing candidate always wins. It is that the entire parameters of the debate shift. Notably, neither Mr. Collins nor Mr. Luttrell has accepted that the 2020 election was legitimately decided, one of the issues that first put Mr. Crenshaw in the cross hairs.

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