Showdown in 2011?

By Topic A
Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Post asked political analysts and others whether the Nov. 2 results were likely to result in cooperation or confrontation. Below, responses from Scott Keeter, Dan Schnur, Mike Lux, Douglas E. Schoen, Matthew Dowd and Catherine A. "Kiki" McLean.


Director of survey research at the Pew Research Center

Despite the public's unhappiness with the tone of politics in Washington, there is little indication that public opinion will exert much pressure on members of the new Congress to cooperate across party lines.

It's true that large majorities of the public (78 percent in a March 2010 Pew Research poll) say that elected officials' unwillingness to work together and compromise is a major problem. And a record-high percentage of Americans (77 percent in a recent Pew Research poll) say that Democrats and Republicans in Washington have been "bickering and opposing one another more than usual."

But nearly half (49 percent) also said they admire political leaders who stick to their positions rather than compromising, and this view is especially prevalent among Republicans (62 percent) and people who say they agree with the Tea Party (71 percent). Reinforcing the pressure against compromise for the GOP is the fact that most Republican voters (59 percent in June) say that their party's leaders should move in a more conservative, rather than moderate, direction. This sentiment is shared by fully 74 percent of Republicans who agree with the Tea Party. Among Democratic voters, a majority overall (53 percent) want their leaders to move in a more moderate, rather than liberal, direction. But centrifugal forces affect the Democrats as well. Among self-described liberal Democrats, 58 percent favor moving the party to the left.


Director of the University of Southern California's Unruh Institute of Politics; communications director for John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign; spokesman for George Bush's 1988 presidential campaign

The most likely outcome is both -- first a great deal of noisy confrontation and then at least some limited mutually congratulatory cooperation. Without Rahm Emanuel's voice urging a more centrist approach, Team Obama's natural inclination will be to dig in its heels with Congress and retreat to a strategy based more on regulatory activity than legislative accomplishment. If Republicans do achieve a majority in the House, John Boehner is going to have to spend his first months as speaker reassuring his Young Gun lieutenants and their followers that he's not going to give away the store. All of which suggests a lot of posturing, finger-pointing and threat-making for a good part of next year.

But as time passes, both the White House and Congress will see the need to demonstrate at least some policy achievement to sell to voters in 2012. Brinkmanship is an excellent strategy for keeping your party's base motivated, but swing voters tend to look for signs of progress and accomplishment when casting their ballots. Issues such as education, trade and investments in alternative energy offer the potential for common ground, but expect strong resistance from MoveOn Democrats and Tea Party Republicans. So the opportunity does exist for cooperation -- but only if the parties' most ardent supporters allow it.


Democratic political strategist; special assistant to the president for public liaison, 1993-95; author of "The Progressive Revolution: How America Came to Be"

Whatever happens Nov. 2, we are in for more political confrontation rather than less over the next two years. The Republicans decided from the very start of the Obama presidency to say no to everything they possibly could, and their political center of gravity has shifted farther to the right over the past two years. That hardly seemed possible, but have they gone over the edge: They have become the party of climate-science-denying, Social Security- and Medicare-ending, minimum-wage- and Education Department-abolishing extremists -- and if things don't go their way, who knows, they might want to secede. Moderates in the GOP can no longer afford to cooperate with Democrats for fear of a primary challenge. Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist, Bob Bennett, Lisa Murkowski and Mike Castle have been driven from their ranks or lost primaries. Olympia Snowe and Charles Grassley got pretty much everything they wanted in the health-care bill and still opposed it, while Lindsey Graham walked away from immigration and climate-change bills he had co-authored.

Win, lose or draw, the Republican Party of today will bitterly oppose almost everything President Obama is for simply because, well, he is for it. If voters want Congress to get anything done to solve our nation's problems the next two years, they had better support Democrats.


Democratic pollster and author

The midterm elections, whatever the final result, will bring a period of confrontation rather than conciliation to the nation's capital.

Right now, neither party is articulating a vision for the country, and neither seems inclined or willing to compromise. The Obama administration made a conscious decision to avoid talking about the issues. The administration is attacking foreign and corporate money in the campaign, deliberately diverting attention from the nation's significant and substantial economic problems. Republicans have similarly failed to discuss the broad-based challenges facing the country, and have effectively become the party of "no."

President Obama has shown no inclination to compromise like President Bill Clinton did in 1995 and '96, when he worked with Republicans to address issues such as a balanced budget and welfare reform. Meanwhile, a resurgent Tea Party movement has also become the intellectual and political energy behind the Republican Party. In the absence of leadership from the White House or a resurgent Republican congressional leadership, it's a safe bet that the battles of 2009 and 2010 will get worse, not better, in the next Congress -- and the American people will be the losers.


Political analyst for ABC News; columnist for National Journal; chief strategist for George W. Bush's 2004 presidential campaign

At least when it comes to consensus, the congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle and the White House bring to mind a quote. Saint Augustine, who ended up a pillar of the Catholic Church but lived a very wild life in his youth, is reported to have said: "God make me chaste and celibate, but not yet." Political leaders say they want cooperation, but neither side behaves as though it wants it just yet.

And after Nov. 2, cooperation is going to be hard to come by for a while, even though it would benefit the president in 2012, Republicans if they take over the House or Senate, and the country as a whole.

After Republicans took control of the House in 1994, during President Bill Clinton's first term, it took more than a year and a government shutdown before each side realized it was in its best interest to cooperate. In 1996, the parties did just that on some major issues, including welfare reform, but only after each was humbled a bit and came to realize its success was dependent on the other party. I suspect that with the next Congress, too, it will take a bit of time and struggle before each side realizes that for the sake of their party, and governing generally, they need to cooperate. Issues on which they might come together include transportation, government waste and reorganization, education and possibly energy. Then again, as happened with Saint Augustine, it could take a few years.


Democratic strategist; partner at the public relations firm Porter Novelli

The American people won't accept anything less than cooperation moving forward -- regardless of the outcomes Nov. 2. The burden voters carry is too heavy to make it another two years. And while hyperpartisan politicians may not fear voter retribution, they should fear the significant and real damage to our country and America's standing in the world if they choose to engage in permanent confrontation.

We can all cite a rare example of a party-line vote that brought about real change -- such as the 1993 Clinton budget vote in the House -- but let's be realistic. More often, the great moments of change in our country came when politicians put solutions before their own political standing. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of this is the joint effort of then-Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and President Lyndon Johnson in delivering the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Their collective success came at a significant individual political price, but they were willing to pay it.

The cost of confrontation in the next Congress will be far more expensive, and long-standing, than a reelection campaign budget.

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