The conference, pulled together by the bipartisan political organization No Labels, sure sounds like a nice idea. The organization was founded in 2010 by Democratic and Republican operatives as a tool to further the efforts of candidates from neither of the two major parties.
Today, the group's seemingly more modest aim is to to take some of the personal animosity out of politics in Washington. On Monday, its co-chairs — former Utah governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and former Democrat-turned-independent senator Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) — invited eight presidential candidates and many other politicians to a New Hampshire hotel to talk about their solutions to partisanship.
Many candidates showed up; some of them, like former Maryland governor and 2016 presidential hopeful Martin O'Malley (D), talked about pizza:
O'Malley plugs bipartisan pizza parties: "It's not that simple, but sometimes it does come down to just treating people like human beings."— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) October 12, 2015
Pizza parties. That's how we're going to solve the intraparty revolutions, massive distrust of Washington and substantial voter anger. With some slices of pepperoni and cheese.
To be fair, everyone from O'Malley to Donald Trump who spoke Monday gave it their best shot to try to explain how they'd change the way we do business in Washington. The fact that eight presidential candidates even showed up to a bipartisan conference is clearly a positive step for the bipartisan movement.
But O'Malley's pizza party line is indicative of a larger problem: Our politicians don't seem to know how to fix the political reality we're living in. And it's probably for a pretty simple reason: because voters aren't demanding they do so or even asking them to.
In fact, voters seem to be distancing themselves from the other side. Americans are more distrustful of the other party than at any time in the past two decades, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey on polarization. Those numbers are higher among the most politically active among us.
No Labels is trying to backtrack on that partisanship. "Stop fighting; start fixing," is among No Labels's logos, which was plastered on wallpaper next to the candidates' podiums.
But since the organization's start in 2010, pretty much the opposite has happened. The Republican Party is in disarray, unable to elect a leader in the House of Representatives. Its own members are calling the chamber "bordering on ungovernable." There's a real chance the government could shut down in December for the second time in as many years. As a result, Americans' confidence in the legislative branch is at or as low as Gallup has ever measured it.
Getting a bunch of politicians to speak at a conference probably isn't going to change the disaffected, partisan state of our nation, especially when the most memorable line was about pizza.
The most sobering find in that Pew survey is that more than a third of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats said they think the other side "is a threat to our nation's well-being."
The other side is "a threat" — that's the political reality that No Labels is up against. Creating more bipartisan goodwill in Washington is an admirable ideal, but it's not one that's likely to happen anytime soon, no matter how many well-intentioned conferences about bipartisanship we hold.