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3/31/17

The US Political Scene: Ideological purity comes back to bite the GOP - by Linda Killian

Amid the postmortem over everything that went wrong with the Republican health reform effort, we shouldn’t overlook the role of the system that elects members of Congress. It not only contributed to the massive failure, it is also predictive of what we will see from the Republican Congress moving forward.

Only about 15% of all congressional districts (about 50) are truly competitive. Most representatives come from heavily gerrymandered districts drawn to favor one party over the other by politicians interested in self-preservation and party dominance.

Partisan gerrymandering is largely responsible for the election of the House Freedom Caucus and its outsize influence on Republican health reform legislation. These hard-line conservatives revel in bucking House leadership and are in line with Tea Party ideology.Because of the lopsided tilt of their districts, they need only appeal to a narrow group of voters to get elected — a reality which has pulled Congress and the Republican Party far to the right, out of step with a majority of Americans.

Until recently President Trump seemed to be governing the same way, appealing only to the voters he considers his base.  At his February news conference, he dismissed citizens who defended the Affordable Care Act at Republican town halls this way: “They’re not the Republican people that the representatives are representing.”

As the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan made ever more concessions on health care to try to win the votes of recalcitrant Freedom Caucus members, they wound up losing more centrist members who represent more diverse constituencies and are interested in actually governing rather than simply saying no.

One moderate who opposed the GOP plan was Pennsylvania Republican Charlie Dent. On NBC's Meet the Press last weekend, Dent confirmed a New York Times report that during a White House meeting on health reform, Trump angrily told Dent he was “destroying the Republican Party” and “was going to take down tax reform.”

You can certainly argue over which of the two men is destroying the GOP, but Trump was referring to Medicaid cuts that would produce savings to finance tax cuts Republicans plan for the wealthy. This reverse Robin Hood act doesn’t sit well with GOP centrists like Dent or with the voters who elected him.

Read more: Ideological purity comes back to bite the GOP: Column

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