The leadership of the Republican Party knows that, except in a few very high income neighborhoods, it cannot win elections running on its real program of tax cuts for the wealthy, bread-crumbs (if any) for everyone else, and ending government regulation of every sector of the economy from the banking industry to the production of energy. So ever since Nixon, and most especially since Reagan, they have necessarily engaged in what I have for quite some time described as "The Rightward Imperative." This means attracting voters to the GOP through religious determinism, enhancing bigotry, demonization, and so on and so forth.
However, the true leadership of the GOP, of many of whom we have little or no knowledge, knew that someday this movement would run out of gas. Yes, after Ted "Damn the Law" Cruz has come Joni "Shoot the Law" Ernst, and you have Louie Gohmert and Steve "immigrant children carry bags of dope across the desert" King, not all that many voters are going to go that way in national elections, as especially as the general economy stagnates. And so, the true, big money, leadership knew that they were going to have to go in a different direction. Rove's "Permanent Republican Majority" would never appear. But a "Permanent Republican Government" could.
Which brings us to the Republicans' Grand Plan to achieve that end. It began back in 1992 with the hatching by the then, now defunct, Republican political ally, the Christian Coalition, of something they called "The 15% Solution." (I wrote a book with that title, on the theme of what the GOP/Religious Right would do if they were ever to attain significant power in US government. Originally published in 1996, the current edition is to be found here. "The 15% Solution" itself is to be found on p. 17 of that book). It was a strategy designed to lower voting participation, down to a level where the loyal rightist "15%" could win elections, all by themselves. As Paul Weyrich, one of the creators of the Republican-Religious Right Alliance, a founder of ALEC (see below) and a founder of the Heritage Foundation, famously said: "We don't want everyone to vote. Quite frankly, our leverage goes up as the voting population goes down" (see p. 18).
And so came the national Republican Voter Suppression Campaign, led by Fox"News" on the theme of fighting the statistically non-existent problem of "voter fraud." As is well known, it is aimed specifically at the population groups which generally vote Democratic, if they vote at all. Funnily enough our side spent all of its time trying to expose the Campaign for what it really was, which of course got nowhere. What should have been done, in my view, was to say: "We absolutely agree with you. Every voter should have a voter ID, which of course would then have other uses beyond voting. And so, since we are the greatest democracy on Earth (at least folks like Sarah Palin keep telling us that), we should want every single Person to vote. To facilitate that each state should set up a vast series of voter ID offices, where at no charge (for we do want to encourage voting, don't we) every legible person could get a voter ID, with photo, at no charge. What? You're not doing this? Please do tell us, why not?" And hammer away on that theme, making the GOP, the "Party of the Flag," respond to the charge that they were anti-democracy, over and over again.
Then along with voter suppression came gerrymandering, for which the American Legislative Exchange Council began planning in quite some time ago. 2010 was an off-year for national elections. So voter turnout would be lower than average. The also-carefully planned demonization of and non-cooperation with President Obama from the moment he took office was well-underway. (Thom Hartman has summed up the strategy, well-known from the time it was put together in 2009, in a fine post-election piece entitled "Dems Duped by the Caucus Room Conspiracy"). Money was poured into state elections where the GOP and their supporters estimated that they had a good chance of taking over state governments, just in time for re-districting, for both House seats and state legislative seats, which was scheduled to take place in 2011. As is now well-known, they went after that with a scientific zeal of a type that they thoroughly trash when dealing with, for example, anthropogenic climate change.
And so, gerrymandering combined with voter suppression combined with a limp Democratic Party, "let's run away from Obama" (which only gave strength to the GOP demonization of him) participation in the whole campaign, led to an abysmally low turnout. It was actually the lowest since the 1942 mid-term (on year after the start of WWII, of course). About 37% of the eligibles voted. Indeed, when Frank Rich, with whom, more often than not, I find myself in agreement, said that a "Dispirited America Votes for Change, Gives Up on Hope," he was wrong. Unless one counts those people who didn't vote as "voting," (and, of course, in a way they did; it's just that those sorts of votes don't get counted), America did not vote for change. In terms of turnout, the GOP strategy of voter suppression combined with gerrymandering (which lowers vote totals in the districts dominated by either party) combined with Obama-demonization with no effective counter-attack from the Obamaites, worked to perfection, for them.
How to counter all of this will the subject of more than one column down the line. But briefly, one should not look to redistricting in 2020 as a long-term solution. With gerrymandering as it now stands, giving the GOP a stranglehold on a majority of state governments, things will only get worse with the next re-districting. (By the way, the early 19th century Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, after whom the whole process was named, would probably be insulted if he saw the depths to which the Republicans have taken the process, in his name.)
Most importantly, the Democratic Party is going to have to develop a true alternative to the Republicans (which means, among other things, not choosing the echt-DLC HRC as their candidate in 2016). Secondly, this means that some significant sector of the US ruling class is going to have to decide that the way to secure the future of capitalism in the United States is along the lines of the New Deal/government-is-to-work-for-the-national-interest, and not the Reagan Deal, government-is-to-work-only-for-the-corporate-interests. Thirdly, it means that the Democratic Party is going to have to return to some form of Howard Dean's "50 State Strategy."
As I said, more on this anon.