Not Much Precedent For Post-Election GOP Productivity

In one of those “what will happen if Republicans win the Senate” pieces, the Atlantic‘s Molly Ball poses a very good question:

In Kansas recently, Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who’s in a tough race for reelection, made a statement that left me puzzled. “A vote for me is a vote to change the Senate back to a Republican majority, and we’ll get things done,” he said. “And it means a stop to the Obama agenda.”

Wait a minute, I thought. Which is it—ending the status quo of Washington gridlock? Or ratcheting up the gridlock by obstructing President Obama? You can’t “get things done” in Washington without the president’s signature, and no matter what happens in this year’s elections, he’s not going anywhere for another two years.

I’d say the answer is pretty obvious. But Ball draws on her “listen to both sides” journalism training and actually ends the piece actively entertaining the idea that a post-midterm-victory GOP is going to behave itself to give its presidential candidate an easier path, and might find common ground with Barack Obama, the poor sap who cannot say no to a “bipartisan” deal (except when he does).

Well, miracles are always possible. And there is the occasional 1996-97 welfare-reform-balanced-budget-agreement precedent for a divided government coming together to do things that happen to be in the (perceived, at least) self-interest of people who hate each other.

But putting aside Obama’s attitude, the idea of congressional Republicans “moderating” themselves to help their presidential candidate has a pretty recent counter-example: the very last cycle, when poor old Mitt had to meet ideological litmus test after litmus test while trying to convince swing voters he really wanted to throw his crazy cousins in Congress into the nearest mental health facility. And you know what? Even if John Boehner and Mitch McConnell want to play it that way, does anyone think they can snap their finger and convince their conferences to spend the next two years burnishing Barack Obama’s legacy?

So getting back to Ball’s question, I’d go for answer number two: gridlock and obstruction. It is, after all, what many GOP members of Congress have been elected to produce until such time as they enjoy total power and can finally act on an agenda of restoring the Constitution as it stood before FDR’s socialist tyranny.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.