There are three reasons that the Republicans pursue gridlock: ideological purity, hatred of President Barack Obama and because it helps them win elections. The first two they may be able to get over, but not the third.
Republicans discovered in 2010 that by opposing anything and everything of any consequence that Obama proposed, gridlock would ensue and the public’s anger and cynicism toward Washington would grow. Rallying around the tea party’s themes and the deep economic frustrations from the near depression, they swept out incumbent Democrats by the score.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell made it known that his number one goal was the defeat of Obama in 2012. That did not work out so well, but the Republicans quickly pivoted to 2014, where there was clearly fertile ground to elect more of their party. Part and parcel of this strategy was to not pass any meaningful legislation on immigration reform, job creation, education, tax reform or to improve America’s infrastructure and, finally, doing their very best to rally the base against anything having to do with government. The growing anger towards Washington and the party in control of the presidency – the Democrats – provided another windfall.
The difference now is that the anger which pollsters determined in 2010 created a majority for “standing up for principle” has now shifted to “it’s time to compromise, to get things done.” In short, voters want government to work and are sick and tired of the obstruction and gridlock.
Despite their efforts to shift blame, the Republicans now are boxed in, because it is pretty clear that they are the problem, not the party proposing solutions. Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, respected political analysts, have laid this out very clearly in their writings, including the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” So even if Republicans decide that the “shut the government” caucus led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz should be hidden away in the basement of the Capitol, they are still confronted with many political players who believe they were elected by being obstructionists.
The goal of the Democrats, then, should be to revise and reinvigorate the plans to legislate and solve America’s problems and convince the voters that the Congress, controlled by Republicans, is once again blocking progress. When the Republican leadership is convinced that gridlock is now a losing game politically, they may actually change their behavior. Their rigid ideology and their hatred for Obama will give way to a new political reality – the public is on to them and, much like President Harry Truman in 1948, the “do-nothing Congress” label will be laid at their feet.
The Republicans have to confront these past six years and change their behavior. They will only do so only if it becomes crystal clear that the public understands and is sick and tired of their embracing of Washington gridlock.