The Schweikert-Quayle primary and the myth of a GOP civil war

Thomas Grier Attorney, The Law Office of Thomas Grier
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Freshman Republican David Schweikert is in a heated primary battle with fellow freshman Republican Ben Quayle in Arizona. Democrats and their allies in the media are portraying the battle as evidence of a GOP civil war. It isn’t. In fact, it was manufactured by Democrats.

In Arizona, congressional district lines are drawn by the ironically named “Independent Redistricting Commission.” The commission, a product of a ballot measure approved by voters in 2000, was supposed to depoliticize the redistricting process. But while the commission is non-partisan in theory — it consists of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent — in practice it is not, because its independent, Colleen Mathis, is not independent at all.

Last year, Mathis and the two Democrats on the commission voted to partner with Strategic Telemetry, a progressive firm that has strong ties to Democrats, to draw up Arizona’s new congressional district lines. Strategic Telemetry worked on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. It is currently working on the recall effort of Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Republicans sued the commission and accused Mathis of misconduct, but eventually Mathis and the two Democrats on the commission prevailed.

The result is a map that is extremely friendly to Democrats and forces Quayle and Schweikert into difficult positions: Quayle lives outside the newly redrawn Sixth District, which includes about two-thirds of his current district; Schweikert lives in the newly redrawn Sixth District, which only includes about one-third of his current district.

Quayle may actually be the more conservative of the two candidates, though Schweikert has closer ties to the tea party. Nevertheless, Politico recently ran a story with the tagline, “Nasty Arizona race reflects larger GOP divide.” Here’s how the article sets up the fight:

There’s Rep. Ben Quayle, an establishment favorite with the famous last name, who told voters in 2010 he would “knock the hell out of” D.C. but has spent his first year in Washington out of the spotlight, learning the ins and outs of the Capitol while becoming a favorite of leadership.

Then there’s Rep. David Schweikert, a longtime local political figure, tea party favorite and cable TV fixture who’s unafraid to throw bombs and rattle his party’s brass.

These sorts of primaries happen in both parties. For instance, our favorite alien-observer, Democrat Rep. Dennis Kucinich, lost a primary last week to Rep. Marcy Kaptur. Republicans controlled the redistricting process in Ohio and brokered deals with select Democrats to create a map that is very friendly to Republicans. The icing on the cake was having two progressive lions go Thunderdome on each other to retain their respective seats. But no one would credibly claim that the Kucinich-Kaptur primary was evidence of a Democratic civil war.

Like cryptozoologists, Democrats are constantly searching for signs of discord in the Republican Party so that they can construct a false narrative about how the GOP is falling apart. Politico’s story about the Schweikert-Quayle primary is just the latest example of that meme.

Thomas Grier is a third-year law student at The Ohio State University. A graduate of Arizona State University, Grier writes on constitutional law, politics and pro-growth policy.

Note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Rep. Ben Quayle lives outside Arizona’s newly redrawn Sixth Congressional District.