The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What would happen if Congress split into four parties? This.

The last-minute vote to approve a long-term spending package cast a bright light on unusual splits in an otherwise unified Democratic congressional caucus. Following the lead of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), House and Senate Democrats voted against a bill that President Obama was personally advocating. It was similar to the insurgency faced by the Republican establishment last year, as many, many pundits pointed out, only with "no bank bailouts" replacing "no Obamacare" as a rallying cry.

At ABC, Rick Klein, presumably with his tongue in his cheek, suggested that there are now "four parties that need to be taken into account in the Senate: two party establishments, and two wings that are arguably more in touch with the vocal grassroots." But, that's not only in the Senate. The House was actually somewhat more polarized on the vote than the Senate, following the lead of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who actively opposed the CRommnibus deal.

But what if Klein is right? What if the Congress actually completely fragments, along the lines that were sketched in the sand on the spending vote? What then?

The short answer is: Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are still the most powerful members of Congress. It's just that they have a much smaller base from which to operate.

If we assign members of Congress to political parties based on the spending votes, we end up with four parties. The Liberals bucked the Democratic president to oppose the spending package. The Democrats voted for it. The Republicans followed Boehner and McConnell's lead. The Conservatives didn't. It gives us maps of the House and Senate that look like this, with the actual party composition underneath. (Note that this is only based on 1) people who voted on the spending package and 2) are returning to the 114th Congress.)

(Since there are two senators in every state, we added other colors. Left-right splits -- one senator from the Liberals or Democrats and one from the Republicans or Conservatives -- are in purple. Left splits -- one senator from the Liberals and one from the Democrats -- are a shade of blue; Right splits -- one Conservative, one Republican -- a shade of red. If we only know the orientation of one senator, the state is striped. The Senate is annoying to map.)

As a public service, we also figured out who the leadership of each party would be, and the number of electoral votes each could expect to win. (This latter calculation was based on the dominant party among members of the House in each state. There were 30 electoral votes -- from Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, and Montana -- that were toss-ups.)

From left to right:

The Liberals

House minority leader: Nancy Pelosi
Senate minority leader: Elizabeth Warren

House caucus: 129 members
Senate caucus: 21 members
Likely electoral votes: 175

The Democrats

House minority leader: Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)
Senate minority leader: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

House caucus: 42 members
Senate caucus: 23 members
Likely electoral votes: 7

The Republicans

House Speaker: John Boehner
Senate majority leader: Mitch McConnell

House caucus: 143 members
Senate caucus: 27 members
Likely electoral votes: 240

The Conservatives

House minority leader: Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.)
Senate minority leader: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

House caucus: 60 members
Senate caucus: 21 members
Likely electoral votes: 83

And, of course, the two independents, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

Where this really gets interesting right off the bat is in the determination of House Speaker, as Josh Fruhlinger points out on Twitter. Boehner would need to carry his Republican votes and then scoop up additional support from the Conservatives. This seems probable, given the depth of support that Pelosi sees and, even in this new, four-party Congress, the Conservatives would take Boehner over Pelosi. Somehow, a Conservative-Liberal governing coalition seems ... unlikely.

But this is all a thought experiment, of course. The parties wouldn't split into factions so dramatically, and if they did, it's unlikely they'd fall cleanly along the lines from last week's vote. (Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) is a member of the Liberals here, which seems unlikely.) But imagine if it did -- if Democrats were decimated from the fight over bailing out big banks, and the Republican rift that opened last year became permanent.

That, we can all agree, would be fascinating. And would give us something much more interesting to talk about than 2016. Which, by the way, would be a presidential year in which the four major party candidates (Warren, Clinton, Bush, and Cruz) faced off in a series of four-way debates. What's not to like?