Members Only | January 11, 2022 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

How gerrymandering paved the way for Trump — and his coups

That “good news” you heard about gerrymandering? It isn’t.

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In the week leading up to the anniversary of the J6 insurrection, we were reminded of the greatest threat America’s wonky democracy faces. 

No, it isn’t Donald Trump, nor his army of Auschwitz-appreciators, recreational horse dewormer enthusiasts and QAnon clowns waiting for JFK Jr. to parachute into Dealey Plaza. 

It isn’t the remaining Koch brother, the one who apparently won his one-dollar bet with the other Koch. It isn’t even very vaccinated Rupert Murdoch and his malevolent Kendall Roy, who have turned their super-spreader “news” channel into Covid-19’s most infectious ally.

What could be worse than these wannabe tyrants?  

It’s the normalization of the GOP minority domination. 


Replacing elections with selections of voters has directly fed the rise of the white nationalism within the GOP that gave us Donald Trump, the J6 insurrection and the “Eastman plot” for a soft coup that came one Mike-Pence-phone-call-to-Dan-Quayle away from succeeding.


This shrugging acceptance of the perversion of our elections helped to make true democracy an exception in America rather than the rule — especially at the federal level

And nowhere has the GOP’s success at withering away our democracy been more obvious than when we hear the huge yawn across the media after they’ve successfully stolen power from the voters through gerrymandering.

The Cook Report noted on January 4 that the ongoing redistricting process showed some “surprising good news for Democrats.” That good news? Republicans are merely the favorites to win the House in 2022 and for much of the rest of the decade but not an absolute lock. 

The Wall Street Journal jumped in to mock the 150 political scientists who declared we’re approaching “midnight” for democracy due to “partisan politicization” unless Congress passes the Freedom to Vote Act.

What exactly are we supposed to be celebrating here? 

That the majority party in America — the party that has won the popular vote in seven out of the last eight elections — will be allowed to compete for control of the House of Representatives with merely a significant disadvantage because Republicans?

Cook Report’s Dave Wasserman told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that among the reasons for the GOP’s “restraint” is that it has been forced to play “keep away” with the districts it has squirreled away with Cirque du Soleil-style contortions of political maps.


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“A number of their own districts have become more vulnerable over the past 10 years,” he said. “They’ve had no choice but to focus on shoring those districts up.”

In other words, they focused on cementing their unearned majorities rather than expanding them.

Absent in this discussion is any honest assessment of the high crime against democracy the GOP pulled off in 2010, led by Karl Rove’s Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP) — a not-so-secret evil plan Rove announced in a column in the Wall Street Journal that ran with the shameless subhead “He who controls redistricting can control Congress.” 

And control redistricting Rove and the GOP did. 

Like Dick Cheney conducting a VP search. 

The Brennan Center’s Michael Li noted that, in 2011, “The nation saw some of the most gerrymandered and racially discriminatory maps in its history.” 

It’s hard to minimize how destructive extreme partisan gerrymandering can be. 

It hurts access to health care, limits affected citizens’ access to credit and leaves tens of millions of Americans without a representative who will be accountable to anyone outside the party’s base, as competitive districts have become as rare as elected Republicans who will admit they’ve been vaccinated. 

But these ills are mild compared to the threats to democracy that gerrymandering has enabled in the last decade.


Apologists of the attrition of America’s democracy make all kinds of excuses to help normalize the slow drip forming the stalactite that will eventually fall and stab what’s left of our democracy’s heart. It’s geography! It’s normal! Democrats do it, too!


Replacing elections with selections of voters has directly fed the rise of the white nationalism within the GOP that gave us Donald Trump, the J6 insurrection and the “Eastman plot” for a soft coup that came one Mike-Pence-phone-call-to-Dan-Quayle away from succeeding.

A 2018 study found that the whiter a congressional district is, the more likely it is to be represented by a Republican. This is the evitable result of Rove’s REDMAP project and attempts to consolidate Republican voters, who are significantly whiter than our still mostly white electorate. 

And because House Republicans mostly occupy safe seats where they’ll compete almost exclusively for the votes of a diverse group of voters whose complexions range from “eggshell” to “eczema,” white identity politics isn’t a choice for most candidates. It’s a requirement. 

This explains why the GOP ignored the RNC’s 2013 “autopsy” after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, which embraced comprehensive immigration reform. Instead, House Republicans went on to repeatedly vote to deport the DREAMers, immigrants brought to this country as children whose path to citizenship is supported by about three out of four voters. This pandering to the far-white paved the way for Trump to goose step his way to the GOP nomination in 2016 by accusing immigrants of pretty much any crime he imagined (or possibly saw) his old pal Jeffrey Epstein committing.


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When Trump lost in 2020 and decided to try to cling to power by seeking to convince Mike Pence to throw the election “back to the states,” this fantastical plan was only conceivable because partisan gerrymandering had given Republicans an insulated lock on legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — even when they received fewer overall votes than their Democratic opponents. 

These gerrymandered-for-the-GOP’s-pleasure majorities in key states are exactly what Trump is imagining as he leads his party in the effort to sever the Electoral College from anything resembling the will of the voters in order to carry off a successful coup in 2024.

Apologists of the attrition of America’s democracy make all kinds of excuses to help normalize the slow drip forming the stalactite that will eventually fall and stab what’s left of our democracy’s heart.

It’s geography! It’s normal! Democrats do it, too! 

All of these excuses fuel the GOP’s shamelessness. 

And they’re lies. 

Redistricting reforms in Democratic states, which would be implemented nationally if the Freedom to Vote Act became law (and somehow survived the Supreme Court), managed to forge fair maps that are far more generous to the Republicans than any Republicans would ever be to Democrats.


Covering the reality of the GOP’s obsession with minority rule honestly requires abandoning the pretense that we still have two major political parties. It would force you to admit that instead we have one imperfect party struggling to Band-Aid together a coalition and an increasingly authoritarian cult that thrives as a national party by keeping people of color from ballots.


There are myriad reasons why voting rights issues are treated as a triviality or the hobbyhorse of one political party. Affluent white people — the sort of people who usually become prominent commentators or take-slingers — generally have shorter waits for voting. And they likely aren’t related or sympathetic to the millions and millions of Black Americans who were alive pre-1965 when their right to vote wasn’t anything close to a right.

Moreso, covering the reality of the GOP’s obsession with minority rule honestly requires abandoning the pretense that we still have two major political parties. It would force you to admit that instead we have one imperfect party struggling to Band-Aid together a coalition and an increasingly authoritarian cult that thrives as a national party by keeping people of color from ballots.

Greg Sargent also has an excellent post about how a “both-sides” press might cover a successful Trump coup in the next presidential election, a year later. But we don’t need to guess what that might look like. It will look exactly like the way the press covers Republicans’ gerrymandering. 

And we should expect to be cheerfully informed of “surprising good news,” like President Trump not arresting all his political opponents … yet. 


Jason Sattler, better known as LOLGOP on Twitter, is writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was a columnist and member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors from 2017-2021.

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