David Weigel on a Democratic Senate under a Republican President

David Weigel of Slate argues that if Mitt Romney is elected president, congressional Democrats would find themselves in a difficult position:

What would Democrats be able to do if Romney won the presidency, Republicans held the House, and they narrowly held the Senate? That looks to me like a horrible arrangement. January 2013 starts with yet another Obamacare repeal fight, which Harry Reid tries to keep off the floor, which requires coddling Joe Manchin and Mark Pryor. A rump of vulnerable Democrats, facing down a brutal 2014 map (Alaska, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana — all up for election), are tempted to cut deals with President Romney. Reid, who despises Romney, is constantly under pressure to avoid the inevitable defections, as President Romney uses his honeymoon and PR control to tell voters that the only obstacle to recovery is a Democratic Senate.

This reminds me of Josh Kraushaar’s speculation regarding the emergence of a Democratic “Gang of Eight” in the next Congress:

If Romney is savvy, the first people he’d reach out to would be Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Mary Landrieu, D-La. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V. Add independent Angus King to the Senate – he’s the frontrunner in this year’s open seat Maine Senate race – and pragmatic Virginia moderate Mark Warner and there’s a caucus of at least eight clear swing votes that could line up Romney’s way.

Romney’s not talking much about bipartisanship on the campaign trail; his focus has been squarely on blasting Obama’s record. But if he wins, a test of his governing aptitude will be how effectively he courts those red-state Democrats, whose own political survival relies on getting things done.

I am relatively optimistic about this scenario, and I’ve argued that it creates the potential for a politically popular center-right agenda:

[T]here are policies that could keep the right united while winning over a swathe of the pragmatic center-left, e.g., something like the Ponnuru-Stein family-friendly approach to tax reform or, more contentiously, a base-broadening, (somewhat) revenue-raising approach; progressive higher education vouchers; a PPACA-replacement agenda that delivers significant coverage expansion, etc. It’s hard to tell if a Romney administration would actually pursue these ideas, or if it could make the case for them effectively. But he should certainly try, as doing so would help broaden the GOP and, more importantly, put the federal government on a more sustainable, productivity-enhancing trajectory.  

To be sure, it still seems more likely than not that President Obama will win an Electoral College victory, but it is interesting nevertheless to think through these scenarios.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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