Why the Republican Argument for Ticket Splitting Fails

As it becomes increasingly clear that Donald Trump is going to lose on November 8th and that his place at the top of the ticket could damage down ballot Republicans, we’re starting to hear a new message from conservatives.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a powerful “super PAC” that supports Republicans in the House of Representatives, is to begin running ads in the coming days that attack Democratic candidates as “rubber stamps” for Mrs. Clinton and urge voters in swing districts to support Republicans instead…

Two outside groups aligned with Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Leadership Fund, have also begun running television commercials in Senate races that imply Mrs. Clinton is likely to be the next president and ask voters to limit her power by supporting Republicans.

While that sounds like a “stop Clinton” message, Robert Samuelson actually made an affirmative case for ticket splitting, suggesting that “divided government, driven by ticket splitting, might actually produce better government.” You have to admit, that is a tough case to make in light of eight years of total obstruction from Republicans. In order to do so Samuelson creates a fairy tale scenario about what he calls “a new cast of characters.”

Clinton, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are all “transactional politicians” — they want to get things done — as well as fierce partisans. They also know that the gridlock of the past eight years hasn’t done either party much good. All this creates reasons to reach mutually acceptable agreements.

First of all, the only way Ryan retains his speakership is if he accedes to more demands from the House Freedom Caucus – leading to more gridlock. And secondly, someone please call me when McConnell demonstrates one iota of commitment to working with Democrats “to reach mutually acceptable agreements.” That would be a complete reversal of his position these last 8 years.

Ultimately, Samuelson demonstrates that he is firmly in the camp of both-sider-ism.

We live in an era defined by what Abramowitz and political scientist Steven Webster call “negative partisanship” — an all-consuming fear of your political opponents’ agenda. What you oppose defines your politics as much as what you support. “It’s not just polarization,” says political scientist Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. “It’s tribalism. People on the other side are enemies, not just adversaries, who threaten your way of life.”

It is interesting that Samuelson quotes Ornstein about polarization because he and his co-author Thomas Mann have been very clear that it is asymmetrical. Here is what they wrote in their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.”

The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier, ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understandings of facts, evidence and science and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

It is clear that President Obama has taken this up as his message on the campaign trail. Not only has he pointed to the chutzpah of Rep. Darrell Issa for calling him the most corrupt president in history while extolling the fact that he signed legislation Issa sponsored, and suggested that Joe Heck would “have the Koch Brothers on line 1 and Donald Trump on line 2,” he directly tied Trump’s embrace of ridiculous conspiracy theories to Republicans.

Obama aimed most of his criticisms past the GOP nominee and at Republicans who allowed conspiracy theories and the anger of the party’s base to grow to the point that Trump was able to commandeer it…

He accused Republicans of laying the groundwork for Trump by “feeding their base all kinds of crazy for years, primarily for political expedience.”

Does anybody remember this one?

Yes…he called it the “swamp of crazy.” But given the example he used, can anyone deny that is an apt description?

That is the problem with ticket-splitting to save the Republican Congress. It empowers the insurgent outliers who have been feeding off of a swamp of crazy.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .