To listen to the debate in Washington on immigration you would think that the Obama years were the “Age of Comity.” They were not. Ultra-partisanship has been building for decades, and the 2018 midterm elections appear to have further undermined compromise and collegiality in Congress.
In 1995, 18 states had bipartisan representation in the U.S. Senate, including what today are deep blue states: Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont. Today, the number of states with bipartisan representation is eight (counting independents who sit with Democrats as Democrats). In the 2020 elections, both parties will look to shrink this number even further by trying to defeat Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine), which would leave only five states with bipartisan representation in the Senate.
One-party control moves politics to primary elections where the base, party activists and strident pundits can punish those who have strayed from extreme orthodoxy.
Several trends help explain how we got here.
The partisan gap, the divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political values, continues to increase. “Across 10 measures that Pew Research Center has tracked on the same surveys since 1994, the average partisan gap has increased from 15 percentage points to 36 points,” Pew found in 2017. This far outdistances any other demographic factors, including race and education.
One startling finding: “In 1994, 23 percent of Republicans were more liberal than the median Democrat, while 17 percent of Democrats were more conservative than the median Republican. Today (2017), those numbers are just 1 percent and 3 percent, respectively,” with 95 percent of Republicans more conservative than the median Democrat and 97 percent of Democrats more liberal than the median Republican.
Compromise has become anathema to both sides. Another Pew surveyfound that support for standing up to President Trump, at the risk of getting less done, increased from 63 percent in 2018 to 70 percent in 2019 among Democrats and independents who lean Democrat. Among Republicans, it rose from 40 to 51 percent who want the party to stand strong against Democratic leaders.
The loudest voices on the left are newly-elected House Democrats who, in the main, are intensely anti-Trump. Dealing with these members could prove to be daunting. As the New York Times observed last fall, “(Speaker Nancy) Pelosi risks creating a headache for herself down the road: a Democratic version of the House Freedom Caucus, the far-right group that consistently defies Republican leadership.”
The seeds have been sown as new members have been given their platforms. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has been accused of being anti-Israel, now sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who is anti-capitalism, is on the Financial Services Committee that will scrutinize Wall Street. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who drew criticism for her statement “impeach the motherf—er,” will serve on the House Oversight Committee, with a likely focus of investigating the administration. Compromise? Never!
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell uses a favorite Southernism when he explains why shutting down the federal government is bad politics.
“We’ve been down this path before,” the Kentuckian warned before President Trump launched the 35-day shutdown that ended Friday. “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.”
So when Trump — who won exactly nothing in his standoff with Democrats — threatened to shut the government again in coming weeks, he seemed to be hankering for the third kick of the mule.
Forcing 800,000 federal workers and thousands of contractors to go without paychecks in the nation’s longest shutdown weakened Trump in several ways. The most obvious was his standing in opinion polls, which sagged during the five-week standoff.
In an average of major surveys this week, only 42% of Americans said they approved of Trump’s job performance; 55% disapproved.
Another sign of weakness was more subtle, but perhaps more important: his erosion of influence on Republicans in the Senate, where the GOP still holds a majority (unlike the House, which Democrats won in November)….