Opinion – February 1, 2021
By: Henry Olsen (Washington Post)
Republicans increasingly worry that newly elected Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene will hurt the entire party in the 2022 midterm elections with her loony and dangerous conspiracy theories. Many look to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to punish the flamboyant freshman, but Georgia Republicans hold the most effective tool to get rid of the troublemaker: redistricting.
Every state must redraw the lines for its congressional districts every 10 years after the decennial census. That means the Georgia legislature will have to meet later this year to craft new maps. Since the GOP holds solid control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office, it could use the old-fashioned techniques of gerrymandering to make it harder for Greene to win reelection.
The approach would be simple: Divide Greene’s 11-county seat so there is no district in which she holds the upper hand in a Republican primary. Primary voters tend to vote for candidates they are familiar with. If Greene’s seat is chopped up, with parts placed in new seats where another GOP incumbent has represented more of the voters, any of the other incumbents she could run against would have the upper hand.
Using a free online tool, Dave’s Redistricting App, I was able to create a map in a couple of hours that would damage Greene’s chances to win while preserving the GOP’s current 8-to-6 seat majority among Georgia’s congressional delegation (the number of Georgia’s House seats is expected to remain the same).
The trick is to cut her current seat, which hugs the state’s northwest corner and extends along the borders with Tennessee and Alabama, into three pieces and extend each piece east. Whichever seat she runs in would include more territory currently represented by another conservative Republican member of Congress. While no one can predict an election’s outcome with certainty, she would be the clear underdog in any race she took on.
Moreover, each of the Republicans she could face is strongly conservative, so the race would focus solely on her antics and beliefs. Any of them could run on a simple slogan: “conservative, not crazy.”
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This approach contains a fair bit of risk, but it’s likely to be less risky than any other option. A primary challenge to Greene in a new seat that contains most of her old territory is likely to fail, as a Democratic attempt to defeat controversial Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in 2020 demonstrated. Even though Omar’s opponent, Atone Melton-Meaux, raised more than $4 million, Omar easily turned back his challenge by nearly 20 points. Any Republican challenger to Greene would face the same uphill climb as Melton-Meaux.
Even successful primary challenges to tarnished incumbents show how hard it can be for challengers to win. Former representative Steve King (R-Iowa) was disgraced by racist comments that led to his removal from all committees. His major opponent, Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra, dramatically outspent the incumbent and advertised heavily on television, arguing that King’s loss of committee assignments made him an ineffective representative.
King nevertheless lost by only 10 points. Moreover, all of Feenstra’s margin came from the state Senate district he represented, where voters knew him personally. Without that advantage, it’s possible King could have triumphed even against the entire weight of the GOP establishment.
Republican members who could end up facing off against Greene would also furiously oppose the plan. Nevertheless, Georgia Republicans should go ahead with the plan anyway. While state legislatures often accommodate incumbents when drawing new maps, they are not required to do so.
The results from November’s presidential election and January’s Senate runoffs showed that Georgia is now a 50-50 state, and Georgia’s statewide offices are up in 2022, including an election for the remainder of the term for newly elected Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock.
Republicans are right to worry that tolerating Greene could make her the de facto face of the party, potentially dragging down the entire ticket to defeat even as she wins reelection. Facing the ire of three House members would be a small price to pay compared with the risk of losing dozens of electoral defeats.
Setting up a battle between two GOP incumbents also makes McCarthy’s job easier. Normally, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the leadership’s campaign arm, would be obligated to endorse and support an incumbent facing a primary challenge. When two incumbents face each other, however, the NRCC could plausibly remain neutral. That would prevent McCarthy from either breaking tradition to avoid endorsing Greene or tying his effort to retake the House for Republicans to her mantle.
Gerrymandering a first-term representative out of her seat is unusual, but Greene is extremely unusual herself. Georgia’s GOP should bite the bullet and show that the gerrymandering pen is mightier than Greene’s verbal sword.