Trump drives bipartisanship out of the political conversation
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S.,…
With Donald Trump and congressional Republicans moving forward on a variety of their highest-profile priorities – including major initiatives on health care and tax cuts – there’s been a fair amount of discussion about a dry topic: procedures and the legislative process. What’s possible using reconciliation? How will the Byrd Rule affect the GOP’s plans?
The questions matter, of course, and will help determine what does and doesn’t happen, but the entire line of inquiry tends to skip right past an underlying truth: if the White House and Republican leaders were committed to at least trying bipartisan policymaking, we’d be having a very different kind of conversation.
HuffPost’s Jason Linkins had a piece several weeks ago that’s been on my mind lately about how the chorus of calls for bipartisanship has “fallen silent” now that Trump’s in the Oval Office.
It’s worth pointing out because during the Obama era, the demand that he remain true to bipartisanship was constant. The entire notion of presidential “leadership,” during Obama’s tenure, was entirely contingent upon his willingness to break with those that had voted him into office and deliver policies that they would almost certainly despise, like deep and immiserating cuts to earned benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare.
If Obama wasn’t trying to reach some sort of across-the-aisle grand bargain, then he was failing, in the eyes of pundits. And whenever Obama managed to deliver on middle-of-the-road policies, well ― those same pundits moved the goalposts. Journalist and political commentator Greg Sargent called it “the centrist dodge,” and it, too, was a constant feature of the Obama era.
During the long and tortuous legislative process that eventually brought us the Affordable Care Act, the bipartisanship police pulled double-shifts on their beat, raising a hue and cry whenever it looked like developments weren’t going to yield the optimal center-right health care package. The media practically fulminated against the so-called “public option,” dismissing the strong and consistent public support for it out of hand. Whenever it seemed like the Democrats might have to take a parliamentary short-cut ― like the brief flirtation with “deem and pass,” the Beltway press erupted in a chorus of disapproval.
All of this disappeared on Jan. 20, 2017. On practically every issue, Trump and Republicans haven’t even paused to consider reaching across the aisle. The idea of reaching bipartisan compromises might be difficult, but while Obama practically begged GOP lawmakers to work with him toward compromise – on practically any issue – this president and his congressional allies don’t even bother.
Even when key Republican priorities appear unlikely to pass, the idea of cultivating Democratic support never enters the equation. There’s literally nothing in the GOP’s health care or tax-cut plans that might garner broad support, and for Republicans, that’s just fine. Indeed, Trump continues to publicly mock Democrats, instead of looking for common ground, and House Speaker Paul Ryan has been explicit in his rejection of working with Democrats.
To be sure, my point is not to worship at the Church of Bipartisanship, a popular destination for much of the D.C. media establishment. The parties are very different; they want to take the country in different directions; and they’re supposed to disagree.
But what’s striking to me is how much the larger conversation has changed since Obama left office. For much of the last eight years, bipartisanship wasn’t just a celebrated virtue, it was presented as an end goal unto itself. For policies to be legitimate, they had to enjoy support from both parties – period, full stop. For the president to criticize members of the rival party in public was to “poison the well,” undermining governing opportunities and constructive attempts at policymaking.
Where did all the hand-wringing disappear to?
Some will argue that Obama promised to reach out to other party, so more was expected of him, and since Trump made no comparable assurances, no one’s surprised. Perhaps. But given that Trump received nearly 3 million fewer votes than his Democratic opponent, the expectations should probably be even greater now – because our current president took office thanks to the electoral college, not the will of the electorate.
Jason Linkins’ piece concluded, “[I]t sure seems weird that the people who spent the past eight years going blue in the face, insisting that Obama had to ‘lead’ by constantly reaching for bipartisan compromise, even when he didn’t need to, have gone curiously silent now.”