Ted Cruz said something this week that will make most any Democrat do a spit take. At a conservative student gathering in Florida, he predicted that Democrats would become "obstructionists at a level we’ve never seen" and will "filibuster absolutely everything they can."
Those Democrats were quick to point out that the use of the filibuster proliferated when Republicans were in the Senate minority before the 2014 election and that then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remarked in 2010 that the GOP's No. 1 goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Cruz should look in the mirror, they argue; it's Republicans who've been the obstructionists at every turn. And Cruz should know. After all, he led the highly unorthodox and ultimately failed effort to defund Obamacare which resulted in the government shutting down.
Here's a representative tweet:
Obstructionist Ted Cruz Is Whining That Democrats Will Obstruct Trump https://t.co/WWZoFezzJZ
— Cain S. LaTrans (@snkscoyote) December 20, 2016
The problem with this debate is that nobody will ever agree one what the word "obstructionist" means.
The word oozes with subtext, connoting a wanton disregard for actual policy. It suggests the obstructionist is standing in the way of everything its opponent does, regardless of ideology or practicality. It suggests even good-faith efforts at bipartisanship will be rejected in the name of politics.
Which is certainly how Democrats view Republicans' treatment of President Obama -- a kind of reflexive and mean-spirited opposition.
Republicans, though, would argue that their opposition has been principled, and it's Obama who has been pursuing a liberal agenda that they simply cannot vote for. What Democrats might view as Obama's efforts to reach across the aisle would be dismissed by Republicans as meaningless half-gestures.
And if you think this arguing over obstructionism has been fun, get ready for more.
According to a new Pew Research Center poll, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to believe President-elect Donald Trump will reach across the aisle. Fully 73 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters say he is at least "somewhat likely" to work with Democrats in Washington.
By contrast, just 31 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners expect the same. Sixty-nine percent say it's either "somewhat" or "very" unlikely.
The difference is similar, if less pronounced, when it comes to how Democrats will treat Trump. While 55 percent of Democratic-leaning voters expect them to work with Trump, just 39 percent of Republicans expect the same.
Which brings us back to the point about obstructionism: Before Trump even takes office, Republicans are primed to believe he's a negotiator who will work with all sides, while Democrats believe the opposite -- that he's an ideologue who will push an agenda they disagree with, and won't reach out to them.
The left will cheer when their members stand resolutely against Trump, while the right will believe Democrats aren't even giving the president-elect a chance. Democrats will likely reap the benefits of this if Trump doesn't succeed, just like Republicans did in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections. And individual members who have less to worry about in the general election than in their partisan primaries will have plenty of incentive to toe the line and not work with Trump, just like Republicans with Obama.
This is our modern partisan political system, and with the GOP now in full control, it's hard to see it changing.