Image Credits: Cornell University.
I’m generally sympathetic to Joe Biden as a person and think that in most respects his administration would be hard to distinguish from a third Obama term. He’d staff the government will good, decent, well-meaning and competent people and he’d do his honest best to be a president America could take pride in. I’m not sure a third Obama term is what the country really needs right now, or that that is the best we can do, or that Biden would perform nearly as well as Obama when it came time to make the really hard decisions. I’m not even sure, at his age, if he’s up for the challenge. But I’m not hostile to Joe Biden. Except, perhaps, when I hear him talk about Republicans as if they’re people who can be reasoned with or partnered with in good faith negotiations.
Biden on getting things done post Trump: "With Donald Trump out of the way, you’re going to see a number of my Republican colleagues have an epiphany. Mark my words. Mark my words,”
— Liz Goodwin (@lizcgoodwin) November 6, 2019
One way or another, the Republicans will one day be free of Donald Trump, and they will change as a result. But the main way political parties change is through the churn of elections. Their vulnerable members are the most likely to be interested in bipartisanship, but they’re also the first to lose. The Democrats didn’t become more interested in working with Trump when centrist senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Donnelly of Indiana lost their reelection bids. The same thing is happening on a greater scale to the GOP as the Democrats continue to pick off lawmakers who come from competitive states and districts. If Joe Biden wins a resounding victory over Trump, he will also probably see many of the likeliest Republican partners for bipartisan legislation bounced out of office at the same time. And, honestly, there aren’t many partnering candidates to begin with.
It’s true that when political parties lose consistently and for a long time, they can begin to moderate their positions and move to the center. This is basically what happened with the Democrats in the early nineties. But, as the anti-government party, the Republicans are more comfortable being in the opposition than the Democrats. They spent about sixty years in a near perpetual congressional minority between 1933 and 1995. What finally brought them out of the wilderness wasn’t moderation but the triumph of the radical conservative movement. They seem more than happy to lose elections if the alternative is to work with Democrats.
If anything, the possibility of bipartisanship is more remote that ever. First, the Democrats have very few conservative members left in Congress, so there’s no longer much ideological overlap to work with. Second, the rise of right-wing media has brought along an extremely strong enforcement mechanism for highlighting and punishing any softness or compromise from Republican officeholders, very much including their leadership.
I have no doubt a President Biden would have a vastly more cordial relationship with Senate Republicans than a President Warren or Sanders or Harris. But they’d still feel compelled to oppose him at every turn because personal relationships can only help on things that have very low visibility to the enforcers at Fox News and other conservative media outlets.
President Biden would not find a receptive Republican audience for any part of his platform in Congress. More likely, the GOP would change their position on an issue rather than maintain it if was consistent with Biden’s view. They would characterize everything he proposed as radical and budget-busting and in the service of non-white welfare cheats. They would shut down the government and default on the national debt to extract the maximum amount of concessions.
This isn’t just a problem for Biden. Things would be basically the same but more heated if the next president pushed a more progressive agenda. No one can magically fix the Republican Party or make its members cooperative. No one can enact their agenda under the present rules because the Republicans will have the power to block almost all substantive legislation.
But Biden keeps saying that he’s got the magic touch. It’s somewhere between insulting and dishonest to hear him talk about the Republicans having an “epiphany” if he becomes president. This is a party that is sticking with a criminal and incompetent and immoral and reckless president because, like Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, they don’t turn on their leaders.
I wish Biden were right. But I’ve been blogging for about 15 years now, and all that time I’ve been saying that the Republicans are far worse than most people understand or are prepared to admit. And they have kept proving me correct over and over and over again. They aren’t going to reverse course and get better. What they’re going to do, eventually, is circle the drain for long enough that they’re flushed into the annals of history.