If You Dislike Partisanship, Don't Engage in It

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Norman Ornstein and Tom Mann are at it again, selling the idea — this time in the accommodating New York Times on Sunday — that the Republicans have “broken Congress.” Their article describes an earlier book, “The Broken Branch,” in which they had judiciously blamed both parties for the partisanship that has overtaken Congress. Now they are selling a new book, “One Nation After Trump,” which — to judge by the Times article — solely blames the Republicans.

The central point of the article is that “it is the Republican Party — as an institution, as movement, as a collection of politicians — that has done unique, extensive and possibly irreparable damage to the American political system.”

They treat this as though they’ve just come to this observation, but the two of them have been selling this partisan poison for a while. Perhaps they have forgotten their last book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” which made the same argument in 2012.

It’s more than a bit ironic that this hyperpartisan screed presents itself as tut-tut-ing about excessive partisanship while producing one of the most viciously partisan works to be published since their last one. Does anyone really fall for this? Like the New York Times itself, it is merely a demonstration of the fact that the modern progressive movement has no appetite for reasoned discussion.

To add just a bit of a counterweight to the Ornstein-Mann thesis, one might consider what the Democrats in the Senate have been doing since the beginning of the Trump administration. They have shown what most Americans probably never thought possible — that a determined extremist movement can actually prevent the functioning of the United States government by making it impossible for a duly elected president to organize his administration.

If the Republicans had not somewhat miraculously retained control of the Senate in 2016, Donald Trump would not, even today — a year since his inauguration — have a functioning government. This is because seven of Trump’s Cabinet nominees did not receive enough Democratic votes in today’s Senate to be confirmed by a chamber in which the Democrats were a majority.

This is truly unprecedented. Most Americans would agree that an elected president is entitled to choose his Cabinet — that unless a nominee has been shown to be dishonest or otherwise personally flawed, the president in office has the right to choose the people who will help him run his government.

What the Democrats in the Senate did was show that this assumption is wrong — that by refusing to confirm his Cabinet a president’s election can be effectively nullified. This is by far the most serious act of partisanship — short of armed rebellion — that the country has ever seen.

The trouble is that once this precedent has been set it is available for use by the Republicans, too. If Ornstein and Mann are truly concerned about excessive partisanship, they should attack it, and stop accusing Republicans of partisanship when their own party may now have done the “irreparable damage” of which they complain.

Peter J. Wallison is the Arthur F. Burns fellow in Financial Policy Studies at AEI. He was general counsel of the Treasury and White House counsel in the Reagan administration.

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