Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones is wondering what the Republicans are doing in Virginia. As you have probably heard, the evenly divided Virginia state senate waited until one Democrat was out of town so that they could ram through a new redistricting plan for the state. But that’s not what Drum is talking about. He’s talking about their plan now to change the way that their electoral college votes are allocated. They want the state to go from winner-take-all to get-votes-of-the-districts-you-win. And that’s what’s strange.
The Republicans clearly don’t care what anyone thinks of them. This is a “might makes right” strategy. And it is one that the Republicans have really embraced the last decade and a half. But why the half measures?
The way that the Virgina Republicans have redrawn the districts, a Democratic presidential candidate would always lose for the foreseeable future. Obama won the state by almost 150,000 votes last year. But if the state was judged by district, Obama would have lost 4-9. With the current Republican plan, Obama would have received 4 electoral college votes, and Romney would have received 9. But why give Obama those 4 votes? Why not just make the state winner-take-all, but based on the winner of the most congressional districts?
Kevin Drum has no answer to that question. I think I do, however. The Republicans want to maintain plausible deniability. They want to be able to claim that the new system is more fair. And by some calculations, it is. After all, Obama would have still received 31% of the electoral college, when he won 51% of the vote. That’s the lot more accurate than the way it was: Romney got 0% of the electoral college but 47% of the vote. The Republicans can point this out to their ignorant base.
There is an obvious counter argument to this, of course: the most equitable thing to do would be to distribute the electoral votes as the closest percentage to popular vote. Going by congressional district is just moving the nonsense of the electoral college to another level: one that now just happens to be to the Republicans’ advantage. The system the Republicans are proposing is clearly meant solely to hurt the Democrats. They will not be able to win the state, regardless of how much they win by in the coming few elections.
This is not about fairness. But the issue of fairness is the key to the Republican strategy. Their base will never hear these arguments against the Republican plan (it helps to have your own “new” network). All they will hear is that the system is being made more fair than it is now. And that will be correct.