The Duopoly Is Broken -- Why Not Create a New Center?

The Duopoly Is Broken -- Why Not Create a New Center?
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Last week the Republican Party apparatus lost a primary runoff for Jeff Sessions’ Alabama Senate seat to a divisive conspiracy theorist after vastly outspending him, futilely pumping upwards of $10 million in support of Luther Strange. Every GOP incumbent running next year will be asked their thoughts on the controversial declarations of Roy Moore and will suffer the consequences of criticizing him.

The very same day, yet another unpopular Republican health care reform bill was pulled to avoid certain defeat in the Senate, a measure pushed with urgency because GOP donors have largely stopped giving to a party that can’t deliver results. Throughout it all, President Trump railed against the National Football League and said repeatedly that a senator was in the hospital who wasn’t.

It’s all inadequate, unproductive, expensive and embarrassing -- by anyone’s definition, GOP control of government isn’t going well. Yet remember when Democrats ran the place? They passed a law without any Republican support that took over one-sixth of the economy. Now Obamacare is threatening to bankrupt or sicken millions of Americans who can no longer pay skyrocketing premiums and deductibles. And those “Dreamers” whom Democrats are now so protective of? The DREAM Act died in the upper chamber at the hands of five Democratic senators when their party controlled both houses of Congress in December of 2010. Something about losing 63 House seats and six Senate seats the month before seemed to knock the principles out of them.

The two parties are failing, of that we are certain in 2017. One party failed to stave off an insurgent, and he wasn’t truly a Republican. The other party nearly failed to stave off an insurgent who only “became” a Democrat to seek the nomination. Both parties are now being captured and contorted by the influences of Steve Bannon and Bernie Sanders. Partisans “loyal” to the old Democratic or Republican parties are watching a once-comforting order, bolstered by deep but predictable divisions, evaporate and are clinging with all they have to what’s left of the fight. Those Republicans and Democrats hoping to “win” again, whatever that means now, crawl out of their tribal traps long enough to “unite” momentarily after tragic storms or shootings, but only to temporarily shift the tone, not to cooperate on policy that will help Americans.

Yet the middle is larger than partisans admit. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 71 percent of the country approved of Trump’s bipartisan deal with Democratic leaders on hurricane relief and government funding. New findings from Gallup show 61 percent of respondents said a third party is needed and “barely a third, 34 percent, think the Republican and Democratic parties suffice.” The numbers show that most Americans -- as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said at the launch of “The New Center” last month -- are “politically homeless.”

We don’t have to invent a new system now, or wait until death certificates are issued for the two dysfunctional parties, to navigate a reasonable path forward. “The New Center” isn’t a new party, just solutions -- offered in earnest -- to problems being left to fester as the two sides keep waging an outdated war.

Bill Galston and Bill Kristol came together to assess thorough research regarding our central policy challenges on immigration, the dominance of big technology, the critical need to protect innovation and intellectual property, the need for inclusive economic growth and to address a sinking labor participation rate, hindrances to new and small businesses, and a way to provide tax relief while rebuilding a crumbling infrastructure. A perfect example from “Ideas to Re-center America” of how far the co-chairs stretched past their own party’s handcuffed thinking is an immigration proposal that supports new entry, but based largely on the criteria of employment and the economy instead of family considerations. Their data show the United States welcoming 64 percent of new entrants for family reasons vs. 14 percent for jobs, which is the justification for 31.5 of new immigrants in Canada and 62 percent of them in Australia.

Galston and Kristol’s project is an outgrowth of a joint op-ed they wrote just after the 2016 election making “the case for a New Center, one that does not split the difference between the Left and Right, but offers a principled alternative to both.”

Galston, a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who now serves as senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said there needed to be a response to the fact that “in both political parties there were large groups of voters who felt that not only had their concerns not been met but they hadn’t even been recognized.” The blueprint, he explained, is a collection of proposals that “a majority of the country does accept or could.”

Kristol, founder and editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard who has worked for decades in GOP politics, said he now sees a system “so polarized and so gridlocked” that the only actual functioning of government amounts to last-minute spending agreements written with the previous year’s spending numbers, hashed out in a back room to avoid a government shutdown. “The odds are pretty decent that we are in a new moment in a pretty uncharted way,” Kristol said, adding he believes if the system will “snap away” from its paralysis, voters in both parties will be open to a new coalition with new solutions for problem-solving.

The Republican-led Congress is now wrestling with whether to stabilize the Obamacare exchanges, which conservatives consider “helping” cement the legacy of President Obama, attempting another partisan bill or pretending to work on it while moving on to reforming the nation’s tax code.  Republicans like Sen. Lamar Alexander and those GOP congressman in the House Problem Solvers Caucus are working with Democrats to bolster the faltering law but have no idea if their leadership will allow votes to come to the floor.

Time will paint a clearer picture of the GOP’s priorities. Watch as Republicans try to pass tax cuts and simplification without Democrats, and then fund the government again, raise the debt ceiling again, help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and maybe try to help those Dreamers before the deadline for action arrives on March 5. Yeah, right.  All the while they will be fending off threats from Bannon and primary challengers financed by the Breitbarteers. Should Democrats win the House back next fall they will be beholden to a base that seeks impeachment first and Sanders’ wish list of freebies next. It’s still an all-or-nothing game, just with new players on the field.

The New Center isn’t radical, but ignoring it could be.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. She is also host of "No Labels Radio" on Sirius XM's POTUS Channel.

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