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 GardnerConservation remains a core conservative principle How to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Overnight Defense: Trump to reverse North Korea sanctions imposed by Treasury | Move sparks confusion | White House says all ISIS territory in Syria retaken | US-backed forces report heavy fighting | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan MORE (R-Colo.), and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate rejection of Green New Deal won't slow Americans' desire for climate action Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all 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 TrumpTrump: 'Haven't thought about' pardons for Mueller target Pence: Rocket attack 'proves that Hamas is not a partner for peace' Conservation remains a core conservative principle 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 OmarPence hits 2020 Dems for skipping AIPAC Ilhan Omar tells Muslim group to 'raise hell' over discrimination Hoyer defends Israel in veiled shot at Omar MORE (D-Minn.), who has been accused of being anti-Israel, now sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezEx-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Mueller report is huge win for President Trump This week: Congress set for next stage of Mueller probe fight MORE (D-N.Y.), who is anti-capitalism, is on the Financial Services Committee that will scrutinize Wall Street. Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibEx-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 Ilhan Omar tells Muslim group to 'raise hell' over discrimination Ocasio-Cortez: Removing Trump from office won't fix country's problems 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 McCarthyMcCarthy: 'Case is closed' on Trump and collusion House leaders need to modernize Congress for the sake of America Overnight Energy: McConnell tees up vote on Green New Deal | Centrist Dems pitch alternative to plan | House Republican likens Green New Deal to genocide | Coca-Cola reveals it uses 3M tons of plastic every year 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 McSallyArpaio's wife recovering after rattlesnake bite in Arizona Former astronaut running for Senate in Arizona returns money from paid speech in UAE The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game 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 DeSantisGillum launches voter-registration campaign Republicans need solutions on environment too Republicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump 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 GillibrandJam-packed primary poses a serious threat to Democrats in 2020 Klobuchar pressing Barr on release of Mueller report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Mueller report is huge win for President Trump MORE (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJam-packed primary poses a serious threat to Democrats in 2020 Pence hits 2020 Dems for skipping AIPAC Poll: Biden, Sanders lead Trump in Iowa MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJam-packed primary poses a serious threat to Democrats in 2020 Pence hits 2020 Dems for skipping AIPAC Ex-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 MORE (D-Calif.), along with Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Harris's stepkids call her 'Momala' Chicago mayor race mirrors national push for more women in office, says columnist MORE (D-Hawaii) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenJam-packed primary poses a serious threat to Democrats in 2020 Stacey Abrams: Barr's Mueller letter 'like having your brother summarize your report card' Abrams launches 'Fair Vote' nonprofit ahead of 2020 census 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.