Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's decision to invoke a relatively arcane rule to silence Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during a debate over Jeff Sessions's confirmation as attorney general has exploded onto a political scene already stuffed full by President Trump.
Democrats see the moment — in which McConnell stopped Warren reading a letter from Coretta Scott King about Sessions — as an outrage, the latest sign that Republicans are trying to silence those who disagree with them. Republicans believe McConnell was well within the rules of the Senate that ban talk on the Senate floor that impugns another member. That it was Warren doing the alleged impugning is all the better in GOP minds given that she is (a) widely regarded as a potential 2020 candidate and (b) hugely reviled by the GOP base.
The uncomfortable truth of Tuesday night's showdown is that it is a win-win for both sides in our modern political atmosphere. Warren and Democrats get a boost from their activist base and wall-to-wall coverage on cable TV. Republicans get a chance to blast one of their favorite targets. And the wheel just keeps spinning.
The episode is a reminder of the extent to which our politics is driven almost entirely by confrontation these days. The bases of the two parties dominate the daily grind of politics. They are the main watchers of cable TV. They read articles (and opinion pieces) about politics constantly. They subscribe to political podcasts. They buy political books. And they L-O-V-E fights.
Think about it. If you believe deeply that Democrats are right and Republicans are wrong — or vice versa — you view politics as something close to combat these days. You believe politics is deciding the fate of the country. And you see one side — the one you aren't on — as leading the country down a path where destruction waits.
The stakes, in short, are high. And so you are drawn to politicians and politics that seem to grasp those high stakes. Politicians willing to put themselves on the line, to get passionate, to get angry to confront when challenged. You turn out at events for them. You donate money to them. You advocate for them online.
Politicians are, by nature, a reactive species. If they see something getting a positive reaction — and, really, any reaction — they move toward it, and repeat it. If confrontation is rewarded, confrontation will continue.
That's why both sides will push this Warren-McConnell story all day. Because they will raise money from it. Because it will activate their respective bases. Because it's winning politics.
But it is, without question, bad for our democracy. The Senate, which long held out from this confrontational mentality, has given in over the past few years — particularly during the heart of the 2016 presidential campaign. The Senate, as we once knew it, does not exist currently.
“Right now is especially bad,” acknowledged Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on “Morning Joe” this morning. “Politics is always with us now. I am hoping things are going to normalize.”
Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best thing. But, at the moment, I don't see much reason for Thune's “hope” of politics walking back from our confrontational times. Throwing red meat to the hungry base is what gets attention now. And that means we are going to get lots more of it.