President Donald Trump talks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, during a visit to Lake Okeechobee and Herbert Hoover Dike at Canal Point, Florida, March 29, 2019.
WASHINGTON – Republicans won a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives, and they owe their gratitude to one person more than any other: Ron DeSantis, the governor, drew an aggressively gerrymandered congressional map that gave the GOP four additional House seats in Florida.
DeSantis angered even Republicans in the state legislature by vetoing the map they had drawn and insisting on one of his own that produced more likely GOP seats — in part by eliminating a Black-access seat in north Florida.
That move, taken this spring as Republicans around the country bemoaned their lack of success at drawing more seats following the decennial redistricting, could end up entirely accounting for the difference between Democratic and GOP control of the House, given how few seats Republicans picked up in the midterms.
DeSantis’ staff did not respond to HuffPost queries, but top Republicans in the state acknowledged his role in the new GOP majority.
“Without Ron DeSantis informing the Florida legislature he intended to veto the congressional map they passed and submitting his own map creating four more Republican seats, Nancy Pelosi would be settling in for another term as speaker,” said Brian Ballard, a longtime lobbyist in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, and a major Republican donor. “Republicans across the country should thank Gov. DeSantis for the majority we have in the House.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been tipped as a possible 2024 presidential candidate, was projected as one of the early winners of the midterm election.
Those four seats from DeSantis, who many Republicans in Florida expect will announce a presidential run next spring, contrast favorably with the seats lost by Donald Trump. The former president is also running for the GOP nomination and has been attacking DeSantis for weeks.
Trump tried to remove every Republican member of Congress who voted to impeach him following his coup attempt that culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol. This resulted in primary losses by Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer and Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. On Tuesday, the two Trump-backed Republicans who defeated them lost to Democrats.
It cannot be known for certain how many other close GOP losses in the House were caused by Trump’s insistence that candidates spread his lies that the 2020 election had been “stolen” from him.
An analysis by Philip Wallach of the American Enterprise Institute of 144 competitive House races found that Trump-endorsed candidates underperformed by 5 percentage points compared to their baseline. At the same time, those who Trump did not back overperformed by 2.2 points.
Trump’s influence was more readily apparent in the Senate, where his election-lying candidates lost in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, resulting in a Democratic gain of one seat and guaranteeing Democrats’ control of that chamber. Hershel Walker, also an election liar and one specifically recruited by Trump, is in a Dec. 6 runoff with incumbent Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia.
In Florida, governors have historically let state lawmakers draw up a congressional map with input from the sitting House members, among others, and sign their consensus product into law.
The Florida legislature last year again produced a map that, while favoring the ruling Republicans, did not dramatically change the partisan balance of the congressional delegation. Legislative leaders were careful to heed a scolding from the Florida Supreme Court from 2015, which ruled that its previous map violated a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2010 that banned partisan gerrymandering and protected minority access seats.
DeSantis did not care about that Florida ruling, arguing that U.S. Supreme Court rulings have given the green light to partisan gerrymandering and, instead, have taken a dim view of districts drawn to favor racial minorities.
DeSantis, a former member of Congress himself, vetoed that map and presented lawmakers with one he had drafted with help from national Republican gerrymandering experts. Florida’s Republican-led legislature approved it rather than continuing a battle with DeSantis, and the new map now faces state and federal challenges.
“He intentionally did it,” said David Jolly, a former GOP congressman from Tampa. “He wants it to be the DeSantis case that finally has the high court declare race-neutral maps constitutional. He wants the test.”
The active legal cases could end up with another court-drawn map such as the one the Florida high court produced following its 2015 decision — meaning that DeSantis’ four-seat bonus may only last one or two elections.
Mac Stipanovich, a one-time Republican consultant in Tallahassee who abandoned the party after Trump took it over, said DeSantis’ power play will not really be appreciated by average voters and might not even be determinative among House Republicans as they decide whom to support for 2024.
“Perhaps he is the hero,” Stipanovich added. “Too much inside baseball for all but the cognoscenti.”