It’s really hard to be bipartisan when one partisan side doesn’t want to.
For the political media the big takeaway from last week’s elections has to be the idea that bipartisanship is the new theme in Washington. Even the president seems to have jumped on the bipartisan bandwagon announcing last week that, “I am not going to judge ideas based on whether they’re Democratic or Republican — I’m going to be judging them based whether or not they work…”
So are we in for a new era in bipartisan cooperation in Washington? Well as Kevin Drum pointed out if Republican voters have anything to say about it, probably not. Pew’s latest mammoth survey of public views came out earlier this week and it shows that while the public at large may want bipartisan cooperation in Washington, self-identified Republicans seem to favor a different strategy:
Overall, 57% of the public says Republican leaders in Washington should try as best they can to work with Barack Obama to accomplish things, even if it means disappointing some groups of Republican supporters, while 40% say they should “stand up” to Obama on issues that are important to Republican supporters, even if it means less gets done in Washington. And by about a two-to-one margin (62% to 30%) more say Obama should work with Republicans than say he should stand up to the GOP…
Within the Republican Party, only about a third of Republicans and Republican leaners (32%) want to see the GOP leadership work with Obama if it disappoints some groups of Republican supporters. About twice as many (66%) say GOP leaders should stand up to Obama even if less gets done. This reflects a shift away from wanting to see their leadership work with Obama in the wake of his reelection two years ago, but is little different than opinions among Republicans after the party’s 2010 midterm victory.
Republican politicians are not fools. They know what their constituency wants and work hard to try and give it to them, after all who wants to end up like poor old Eric Cantor? Or to put it another way, all the polling signs out there point to a hardline stance against Obama as being an important part of staving off a primary challenge. Either way the end result is pretty clear: if the hardline conservatives that dominate Republican primaries don’t want bipartisan cooperation and want confrontation, then all the incentives are lined up for Republican politicians to give them just that.
As a child I was often told that “it takes two to fight” and in many wants that’s true. But it’s also true that it takes two parties to have bipartisan cooperation during a time of divided government. If one of America’s two great political parties isn’t interest in cooperation and is interested in confrontation, well then there isn’t a whole lot the other can do.
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