Debating the Virtues of a Divided Government

Created: October 29, 2010 09:07 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Lots of individual seats in Tuesday’s House and Senate races remain genuine toss-ups, but the consensus among odds-makers about the House is pretty darn clear. Stu Rothenberg wrote in his latest report, “Democrats seem likely to lose at least 50 seats, but the GOP’s ceiling for gains is much harder to predict. With close to 100 Democratic seats in play, GOP gains of five or six dozen seats are not at all impossible. House Democrats appear headed for a historic bloodbath, with losses probably exceeding 1994’s 52 seats. We estimate likely GOP House gains at 55 to 65 seats, with gains at or above 70 seats possible.”

With most pundits predicting a GOP takeover, cue the debate about whether a divided government will produce some much-needed compromise or grind things to a halt. In the New York Times op-ed pages today, David Brooks argues that “the road map for his recovery is pretty straightforward,” while Paul Krugman’s main takeaway is, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

A lot of the debate rests upon the rhetoric of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who recently said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” If this is truly the plan, notes Krugman, then there’s little incentive for Republicans to work with the president on any issue that might make him look like an effective leader.

Brooks, on the other hand, thinks Obama can regain the high ground with independents if he keeps pushing the message that Republicans’ calls for spending cuts are half the answer. “Instead, he will have to go out and do his own thing,” Brooks writes. “That means every day reinforcing the following narrative: the Republicans are only half right. They want to cut things; I want to cut but also replace things. They want to slash government; I want to restructure it. They want destruction; I want renovation.”

The x factor, it seems, is the Tea Party. Will it mount new campaigns and challenges against Republicans in Congress willing to reach across the aisle? And will Republicans cave to its demands at the first signs of discontent? Krugman certainly thinks so, and he predicts a government shutdown as early as next spring.

Correction: This post initially attributed the quote about making Obama a one-term president to Rep. John Boehner. It was actually spoken by Sen. Mitch McConnell. We regret the error.