Monday, October 31, 2016

The Haunting Specter of Divided Government

Divided Government Headless Horseman
It happens every election year. As the Halloween electoral landscape comes into focus, Republicans and Democrats stake out their positions on the prospect for a divided federal government. The usual partisan hypocrisy abides. Partisans who see an opportunity for Unified One Party Rule will decry the evils of divided government. Partisans who fear their party being shut out of power will extol the virtues of checks, balances, and the restraint on power found in a politically divided government. Neither party exhibits any shame when flip-flopping their feelings about divided government from one cycle to the next.

This year there is less partisan clarity about the prospects of either party regaining One Party Rule than is usually apparent this late in the election cycle. Some of this is fueled by delusions of grandeur on the part of Democrats indulging in Nancy Pelosi's bi-annual fantasy of retaking the House majority (see 2014, 2012 & 2010 prognostications of the Once And Never Again Speaker).

The Dividist staked out a position on the 2016 election in a pre-election post shortly before the 2014 midterms ...
"In 2016 Democrats will enjoy many of the structural advantages that favor Republicans in 2014. There is a high probability that a Republican majority in the Senate will not last beyond the 2016 election. If we go into that election with Republicans in majority control of both legislative branches, it makes the divided government vote easy to determine. There will be a greater risk of Single Party Republican Rule, so the 2016 Dividist vote will be for the Democratic candidate for president. A strong Republican presidential candidate could have the coattails to retain the Senate and usher in another era of One Party Republican rule. Even with a strong Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, the Republicans will be likely to retain the House and we get divided government for another 2 to 4 years. QED ... And yes, under those circumstances, the Dividist will gladly support and vote for Hillary Clinton for her third term as President."
 ... and never looked back. Two years later, nothing significant has changed. The Republican House majority is a lock, the Senate is a coin flip, and Hillary Clinton is poised to begin her 3rd term as President of the United States.

Under these circumstances, we would normally expect Democrats to be waxing eloquently on the virtues of divided government. We would expect Republicans to be fear-mongering the prospect of gridlocked government unable to deal with the dire threats posed to the American way of life by the Democratic Party. To some extent, this is exactly what is happening. But, like in so many aspects of this election cycle, Donald Trump changes the game. So instead, we now see principled Republicans and libertarians arguing against voting for Trump, preferring a vote for a Clinton presidency shackled by a divided government.  And we see some deluded Democrats arguing for an implausible return to One Party Democratic Rule hoping that Trump blowback will nationalize the House elections in their favor. In this case, it is the principled Republicans who are grounded in electoral reality.

For some, the nightmarish Halloween choice we face for president is scary enough...
... but others think you should be even more afraid and cower before the frightening prospects of  a continuing divided government.

Thomas Mann of the Brooking Institute explains that, despite being an advocate of divided government in 2006 in opposition to the existing Unified Republican Government, he now asserts that we should have "No more divided government until the Republican party changes" - presumably when Republicans change into Democrats. Or something:
"The simple reality is that our broken politics and dysfunctional government are unlikely to heal until the Republican Party is remade or replaced. The Trump disaster may hasten that rebuilding but its remnants could just as easily prolong the GOP’s destructive insurgency. We need two responsible governing parties to make our constitutional system work. At present we have only one. The only reasonable alternative in the short term is a unified Democratic Party government."
The core fallacy in Mann's argument is that Republicans are solely responsible for the gridlock and obstruction in Washington. The argument fails on two counts. As we've discussed on this blog before, it takes two to obstruct, and President Obama has, as a consequence of either his ideology or temperament, failed to learn the lessons of the Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton on how to get things done in a divided government.

Perhaps the best argument against Thomas Mann (2016) is Thomas Mann (2006). Then he and co-author Norm Ornstein were busy eviscerating a Republican Congress for the precisely opposite criticism of the Republican Congress they revile today:
"The arrival of unified Republican government in 2001 transformed the aggressive and active GOP-led Congress of the Clinton years into a deferential and supine body, one extremely reluctant to demand information, scrub presidential proposals, or oversee the executive... The uncompromising assertion of executive authority by President Bush and Vice President Cheney was met with a whimper, not a principled fight, by the Republican Congress." Thomas Mann - The Broken Branch - 2006
Well,  Mr. Mann -  Republicans are demanding information, scrubbing presidential proposals and overseeing the executive now. That is the constitutionally mandated job of the Congress. It just happens to be a Democratic Party executive instead of a Republican executive.  So there you go.

Look. The problem is obvious. Republicans only behave like principled Republicans when a Democrat is in the White House. Democrats only behave like principled Democrats when a Republican is in the White House. Note the fiscal irresponsibility the Republican congress exhibited during the George W Bush administration. Note the unwillingness of Democrats in Congress to constrain Obama administration domestic surveillance, indefinite detention, unilateral war authority, and executive drone execution lists.

It's simple to understand. Constitutional checks and balances are undermined by unified one party government and reinforced by divided government.  Full stop.

To balance the Thomas Mann Democratic hypocrisy on the Republican side we need look no further than Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. In a recent Washington forum sponsored by The Atlantic,  Ryan flew his partisan flag:
“I’m tired of divided government. It doesn’t work very well,” Ryan said. “We’re just at loggerheads. We’ve gotten some good things done. But the big things — poverty, the debt crisis, the economy, health care — these things are stuck in divided government, and that’s why we think a unified Republican government’s the way to go.”
The reader may recall Speaker Ryan's comments last February on divided government, when he channeled the Rolling Stones to explain his support of the compromise Omnibus Budget Bill:
"The Republican House speaker told host Megyn Kelly that Republicans can’t always get what they want. But if the electorate gives them the White House, they’ll get what they need. “First of all, this what divided government is,” Ryan said, explaining last fall’s Boehner-Obama budget deal. “The problem with divided government is you can’t always get everything you want.” A hangover from outgoing Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that agreement increased spending levels over the limits established in the 2011 Budget Control Act. That deal, Ryan argues, requires context and “a civic lesson.” Though Republicans control both chambers of Congress, the Wisconsin speaker explained that “when you have a liberal progressive president who won’t sign conservative bills into law, they don’t go into law.”
Ryan's frustration with divided government is not surprising. As Speaker of the House, Ryan chaired the Republican National Convention and is the ranking elected leader of the GOP. He has a responsibility to his party. Promoting and supporting a unified Republican Party and government is his job. Problem being, to support a Unified Republican government Paul Ryan must support Donald Trump for President.  And it is surprising that Paul Ryan can continue to hypocritically support Trump in light of how he feels and what he has said about his party's nominee. To whit:

On Trump's proposed Muslim immigration ban:
“This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and, more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”
On Trump becoming the presumptive nominee:
"To be perfectly candid with you, Jake, I'm not ready to do that at this point," Ryan said in an interview with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper" when asked if he is ready to back the presumptive GOP presidential nominee."I'm not there yet"
On Trump's comments about the Khan family:
“America’s greatness is built on the principles of liberty and preserved by the men and women who wear the uniform to defend it. As I have said on numerous occasions, a religious test for entering our country is not reflective of these fundamental values. I reject it. Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Captain Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period.”
On Trump's comment about Judge  Gonzalo Curiel"
Ryan said he "disavows" Trump's comments and that they are "the textbook definition of a racist comment." 
On Trump's hot mic Access Hollywood interview:
"I am sickened by what I heard today," Ryan said. "Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests."
On Trump's "rigged election" claims:
"House Speaker Paul Ryan pushed back against Donald Trump’s claims that the election is being rigged through a spokesperson on Saturday. “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”
On promoting Trump in the final stretch:
"The speaker plans to spend the next month, he told lawmakers on the conference call, “only campaigning for House seats and not . . . to promote or defend Trump,” according to a GOP lawmaker. Ryan plans to campaign in 17 states and 42 cities in October to help preserve his majority."
The Dividist likes Paul Ryan. The Speaker of the House has a tough job. He is the Speaker that our country needs right now. But the Dividist has some advice for Paul Ryan:

Dear Speaker Ryan,
At some point, even if you are the ranking elected party leader, even if you have a responsibility to protect the party majority in Congress, even if you are frustrated with divided government, you need to do and say the right thing. You have an institutional responsibility to the House of Representatives, you swore an oath to protect the Constitution, and you must put country ahead of party. Some time soon you should acknowledge reality and speak plainly to the American people about the risk represented by your party's nominee. In short, you need to sound less like a hypocritical partisan hack. 
Your Friend,
The Dividist

This Halloween there are scarier things than divided government.

A Unified Democratic One Party Rule Government is one of them.

Another is a Unified Republican One Party Rule Government led by Donald Trump.

That's as scary as it gets.

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