In the wake of the Lieberman/Lamont campaigns, past and future, there’s a renewed preoccupation across the progressive blogosphere about the nature of “bipartisanship.” The general story line is that corrupt and weak Democratic centrists, lusting for the approval of the Two David B.’s (Brooks and Broder), are determined to cave in to Bush and the GOP in the name of “bipartisanship.” This jogged my memory about a New Dem Dispatch back in January of 2001 about the likely trajectory of “bipartisanship” in the Bush era. Just for grins, and for the instruction of those who think the DLC is blind about Rovian partisanship, here it is again. Yes, it’s long, but the subject is important and complicated.DLC New Dem Daily January 9, 2001Ten Kinds of BipartisanshipGeorge W. Bush’s transition has been surrounded by a mist of unfocused talk about bipartisanship, which is said to be, along with an uncompromising commitment to his conservative campaign agenda, the most important principle guiding the first days of his administration. We thought it might be useful to bring a little clarity to the subject by outlining ten distinct types of bipartisan coalitions that have been put together over the years, and then considering which types we might see in the near future.1. The Base-In CoalitionThis strategy, pursued most successfully by President Ronald Reagan in his initial budget in 1981, involves uniting one party in Congress and then picking off sufficient members of the other to put together a majority.2. The Center-Out CoalitionAs the name suggests, this strategy begins with a bloc of like-minded moderates from both parties and gradually adds members from each side until a majority is achieved. The NAFTA, GATT and China PNTR trade bills during the Clinton Administration were enacted by center-out coalitions.3. The Outside-In CoalitionThis variety, typically used by incoming Presidents during their “honeymoon” period, involves the aggressive, direct stimulation of public opinion to push members of the opposing party, especially those from states or districts where the President is popular, to come across the line.4. The Inside-Out CoalitionBy contrast, the Inside-Out Coalition is put together through selective deal-making among members, and then sold to the public as a coherent product. Also known as “logrolling,” the Inside-Out strategy reached its zenith in the last highway reauthorization bill crafted by the King of Asphalt, the now-retiring Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA).5. The Big Barbecue(Rare and messy.) This is a variation on the Inside-Out Coalition, but on a grand scale, involving horse trading among the leadership of both parties and aimed at a near-universal consensus. The infamous 1990 budget agreement, which led President George I to violate his no-new-taxes pledges, is an example of a Big Barbecue.6. The Emergency CoalitionThis coalition traditionally emerges in support of the President during military actions, or, occasionally, during economic emergencies. The budget summitry that briefly emerged after the 1987 stock market plunge is an example of the latter.7. The Ideological CoalitionThis strategy was the standard operating procedure in Congress during the period between the New Deal and the Great Society when there were large numbers of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and ideology replaced party loyalty on many issues. Such coalitions still emerge on some issues, such as international trade, where coalitions of pro- and anti-trade Democrats and Republicans are common.8. The Regional CoalitionOn some issues, especially agriculture and energy policy, regional factors regularly trump party. There are some signs of regional fault lines on trade and technology policy as well.9. GridlockIt’s not common to think of it this way, but partisan stalemate represents a bipartisan decision to maintain the status quo until the electorate provides a decisive election and the clear governing majority — an event that the two parties have now been waiting for since 1980.10. Partisan “Bipartisanship”This strategy, which is not, of course, genuine bipartisanship, involves a sustained campaign to convince the public that the opposing party is the only obstacle to bipartisan progress, and that one’s own party has an agenda that represents the real interests of all Americans. President Clinton’s success in projecting his agenda as representing “progress, not partisanship,” was the key to his recurring victories over Congressional Republicans in budget showdowns. Which of these ten types of bipartisanship are likely to be pursued by the new Bush Administration?The answer isn’t yet clear, but it’s important to remember the defining dilemma the President-elect has posed for the Republican Party. From the moment he announced his candidacy, George W. Bush has tried to achieve the maximum feasible change in the image of the Republican Party through the minimum necessary change in its ideology and agenda. He campaigned to “change the tone in Washington,” to create a “different kind of Republican Party,” and to pursue a new ideology of “compassionate conservatism,” but was the unquestioned candidate of the conservative “base,” and embraced a platform that was mostly composed of the age-old demands of the conservative movement.Given that dilemma, you’d have to guess that he’d like to redeem his pledge to pursue bipartisanship as quickly and as cheaply as possible so that he can then pursue his orthodox conservative agenda. That means he will promote the types of bipartisanship that involve the fewest real concessions to the opposition: Base-In Coalitions to pick off a few Democrats; Outside-In Coalitions to bring public pressure on the opposition; perhaps Inside-Out Coalitions on the Texas model to cut Democrats in on legislative deals; and above all, the Partisan “Bipartisanship” of constantly claiming that he embodies the genuine interests of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.If that’s the case, Democrats who are interested in real bipartisanship should refuse to accept the cheap variety, and raise the price for bipartisan cooperation. Then George W. Bush will finally be forced to choose between his rhetoric and his agenda, and we’ll find out how different the real Republican Party actually is. Considering that this was published before the true Rovian nature of Bush’s agenda became clear, and at a time when the mainstream media were assuming Bush would “go centrist” because of the nature of the 2000 election, I think this analysis was rather prescient, if I say so myself. But no matter what you think, it should be understood that Democratic “centrists” don’t miss the point of Rovian polarization and what that means for genuine “bipartisanship.” There are legitimate differences of opinion about how Democrats should respond to polarization, but no real argument that the word “bipartanship” has many meanings, some of them legitimate, some not so: at least ten.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.