Has compromise in Washington become unattainable?

Has compromise in Washington become unattainable?
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To listen to the debate in Washington on immigration you would think that the Obama years were the “Age of Comity.” They were not. Ultra-partisanship has been building for decades, and the 2018 midterm elections appear to have further undermined compromise and collegiality in Congress.

In 1995, 18 states had bipartisan representation in the U.S. Senate, including what today are deep blue states: Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont. Today, the number of states with bipartisan representation is eight (counting independents who sit with Democrats as Democrats). In the 2020 elections, both parties will look to shrink this number even further by trying to defeat Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran Graham: Trump officials not adequately briefing on Iran threat MORE (R-Colo.), and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights MORE (R-Maine), which would leave only five states with bipartisan representation in the Senate.

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One-party control moves politics to primary elections where the base, party activists and strident pundits can punish those who have strayed from extreme orthodoxy.

Several trends help explain how we got here.

The partisan gap, the divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political values, continues to increase. “Across 10 measures that Pew Research Center has tracked on the same surveys since 1994, the average partisan gap has increased from 15 percentage points to 36 points,” Pew found in 2017. This far outdistances any other demographic factors, including race and education.    

One startling finding: “In 1994, 23 percent of Republicans were more liberal than the median Democrat, while 17 percent of Democrats were more conservative than the median Republican. Today (2017), those numbers are just 1 percent and 3 percent, respectively,” with 95 percent of Republicans more conservative than the median Democrat and 97 percent of Democrats more liberal than the median Republican.  

Compromise has become anathema to both sides. Another Pew survey found that support for standing up to President TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE, at the risk of getting less done, increased from 63 percent in 2018 to 70 percent in 2019 among Democrats and independents who lean Democrat. Among Republicans, it rose from 40 to 51 percent who want the party to stand strong against Democratic leaders.   

The loudest voices on the left are newly-elected House Democrats who, in the main, are intensely anti-Trump. Dealing with these members could prove to be daunting. As the New York Times observed last fall, “(Speaker Nancy) Pelosi risks creating a headache for herself down the road: a Democratic version of the House Freedom Caucus, the far-right group that consistently defies Republican leadership.”  

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The seeds have been sown as new members have been given their platforms. Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarCarson invokes abortion in Twitter response to jab from Omar WHIP LIST: Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry against President Trump Muslim lawmakers host Ramadan iftar to break fast at Capitol MORE (D-Minn.), who has been accused of being anti-Israel, now sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Murkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride Warren, Ocasio-Cortez press Mnuchin on role in Sears bankruptcy MORE (D-N.Y.), who is anti-capitalism, is on the Financial Services Committee that will scrutinize Wall Street. Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSteyer plans impeachment push targeting Democrats over recess Tlaib urges Mnuchin to seek personal legal advice Pelosi faces tipping point on Trump impeachment MORE (D-Mich.), who drew criticism for her statement “impeach the motherf---er,” will serve on the House Oversight Committee, with a likely focus of investigating the administration. Compromise? Never!

Republicans have similar issues. Pew summed up the midterms by writing, “Among the Republican House incumbents who lost their reelection campaigns, 23 of 30 were more moderate than the median Republican in the chamber.”   

The temperate Tuesday Group of center-right Republicans and the Problem-Solvers Caucus, which sought bipartisan solutions to issues, lost many of their Republican members in 2018.  As a result, more power in the Republican House has shifted to the conservative Freedom Caucus, which is proving equally difficult for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyRepublicans spend more than million at Trump properties The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi fires back in feud with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes MORE (R-Calif.) to manage.

Power is shifting. Leadership control in Congress is waning, because of each member’s ability to use social media to shape opinion, build grassroots support and attack those who opposes his or her personal agenda. Many of these agendas are extreme. These members don’t want to compromise.

The Twitter firepower of members such as Ocasio-Cortez, with 2.5 million followers, is dissuading Democrats from moderating and Pelosi (D-Calif.) from compromising. Democrats, who won seats in districts where Trump prevailed in 2016 or that a Republican previously held, fear expensive primary challenges from the left if they oppose policies such as the Green New Deal or seek to compromise with Trump.

On the right, Trump’s base has proven to be formidable in primary elections and is compelling Republicans to toe the line. Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyOn The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump Senate defense bill would make military sexual harassment standalone crime MORE, who secured the nomination for Senate, and Gov. Doug Ducey both benefited in Arizona from Trump’s support, as did Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDHS official: Florida one of the 'best' states on election security, despite 2016 Russian hack Florida teacher arrested for loaded gun in backpack told reporter: 'Ask DeSantis' Trump officials not sending migrants to Florida after backlash MORE in Florida, who beat back a stout challenge from Adam Putnam to secure the nomination for governor.

Meanwhile, Democrats seeking the presidency in 2020 are feeling heat from the left. Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Democrats join striking McDonald's workers Fox News contributor Campos-Duffy compares abortion to slavery 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues MORE (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Overnight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCastro swears off donations from oil, gas, coal executives Harris leads California Democrats in condemning HUD immigrant housing policy Billionaire's M gift to Morehouse grads points way to student debt solution MORE (D-Calif.), along with Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardCNN's O'Rourke town hall finishes behind Fox News, MSNBC Progressive Democrat says Trump victory shed light on divide between Silicon Valley, rural US Anita Hill: Female 2020 Democrats 'not being taken seriously' MORE (D-Hawaii) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Castro swears off donations from oil, gas, coal executives Meghan McCain on Pelosi-Trump feud: 'Put this crap aside' and 'work together for America' MORE are apologizing for their past support of measures deemed anti-progressive. Can this process produce a candidate who is able to compromise?

Each political party now sits in its respective corner waiting for the bell to ring. When the bell rings, the only objective is the knock out the opponent. Is it any wonder that compromise seems unattainable?

Dennis M. Powell is founder and president of Massey Powell, a national public affairs consultancy in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. He writes and speaks on political and social trends to organizations and corporations. He has been involved in more than 300 Republican campaigns doing strategy, messaging, polling and fundraising, including the Senate campaigns of Arlen Specter and Dick Thornburgh and the presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush. He has worked on public policy issues for Comcast, the Trump Organization and other national businesses.