Home/Daniel Larison/The Public Seems to Dislike Unified Government Even More Than Dysfunction

The Public Seems to Dislike Unified Government Even More Than Dysfunction

Ramesh Ponnuru recently laid out the reasons for increased Republican opposition in a second Obama term. Noah Millman dubs this the “argument from chutzpah” and explains how it could be turned against them:

One answer is to publicize precisely this argument, and make it a constant talking point in down-ticket races. The evidence is overwhelming that the country hates Congress, and hates it specifically because of its dysfunction. If the GOP is effectively running on perpetuating that dysfunction, I’d think you could cut a pretty good ad about that.

It may be unnecessary to use this argument against Republicans. The public doesn’t seem to have much of an interest in giving either party control of the legislative and executive branches at the same time. When there has been unified government in the recent past, it has been rejected quite quickly. I suspect that one of the most important reasons why the public has no confidence in Congress and disapproves of it as an institution is that most people do not trust the political class, and Congress is the embodiment of that class. Making it easier for one part of that class to enact its agenda would seem to be exactly what most voters don’t want. A majority voted for dysfunction two years ago, and they seem to have done so intentionally. I don’t think that they’re displeased with the results. The “argument from chutzpah” is dangerous for Republicans because it reminds the public of their last experience with unified Republican government, which isn’t likely to improve Romney’s chances of winning. Besides, if the public distrusts the political class as deeply as they seem to, there will be no desire to give either party a mandate.

We know how Republicans reacted to Clinton’s re-election. There was a mixture of frustration and disbelief, which led them into an increasingly bitter political fight with Clinton leading up to his impeachment that they ended up losing. They made no more gains in the ’98 midterms, and they even managed the unusual feat of losing seats in the House in a sixth-year election. Of course, much will depend on economic circumstances, but the GOP’s most recent experience with a second-term Democratic President suggests that continued rejectionism could produce diminishing returns and may not help them very much politically in another two years.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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