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 GardnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way MORE (R-Colo.), and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Trump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick 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 TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far 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 OmarOmar offers sneak peek at her forthcoming memoir Sanders unveils plan for government-funded child care, pre-K Ilhan Omar accuses Meghan McCain of trafficking in 'anti-Muslim smears and hate speech' MORE (D-Minn.), who has been accused of being anti-Israel, now sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez: Trump would 'never' say to her face some of the shots he takes at her on Twitter Ocasio-Cortez suggests a Bloomberg presidency would pave the way for 'a worse Trump' Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates MORE (D-N.Y.), who is anti-capitalism, is on the Financial Services Committee that will scrutinize Wall Street. Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOmar offers sneak peek at her forthcoming memoir Sanders wins endorsement of top Muslim group Don't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms 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 McCarthyFive takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders comes under fire over cost of 'Medicare for All' Trump's intel moves spark Democratic fury 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 McSallyLoeffler releases new ad targeting Sanders's 'socialism' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Overnight Health Care: Officials confirm 34 total coronavirus cases in US | ObamaCare favorability hits highest level in poll | McSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign 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 DeSantisGov. DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday Florida lawmakers pass bill requiring parental consent for abortions, governor expected to sign 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 GillibrandNow is the time for a US data protection agency The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate Ginsburg, accepting lifetime achievement award, urges working fathers to take an active role in kids' lives MORE (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Juan Williams: Black votes matter Clyburn: Biden 'suffered' from not doing 'enough' in early debates MORE (D-Calif.), along with Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardButtigieg notes diversity on debate stage: We're '7 white people talking about racial justice' Sanders grows lead in new Hill/HarrisX poll Financial trade tax gains traction with 2020 Democrats MORE (D-Hawaii) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate 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.