June 21, 2004

Mark Schmitt Has Good Advice for the Next Democratic President

Mark Schmitt gives advice to the next Democratic president:

The Decembrist: Kerry's only hope for success, even if he is blessed with a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, is to begin very early on working with the Republicans that he can work with: as I put it in that previous post, "moderate and not-so-moderate Republicans, from Snowe and Chafee to McCain and Hagel in the Senate, and their handful of counterparts in the House." One key to political power, I believe, is understanding in advance when you will have to negotiate and when you can exercise power. And when you know you have to negotiate -- as Kerry will have to -- you want to decide for yourself when you negotiate and with whom you negotiate. Kerry's choice, then, is likely to be this: Do I negotiate with Snowe and Voinovich in January, or with Frist and DeLay, from a position of weakness, in September? That's not a hard choice.

I'm quite hopeful that Kerry understands this, and that one advantage of his Senate career is that he knows these Republicans and has a history of working well with them. But then the question becomes, will the Democrats let him cut this deal? There will be the partisan triumphalism: "We won. Why do we have to deal with those assholes?" There will be specific differences on issues, because the Republicans are likely to put a much higher priority on long-term deficit reduction, which will bring to a boil the long-simmering conflict over "Rubinomics." But, Ashcroft's Office of Legal Counsel is wrong: President's don't get to operate unilaterally. And Kerry will have an easier time negotiating with people like Senators Snowe and Voinovich, who are decent and well-meaning and who do not set out to destroy government, than Clinton had negotiating with the nominal Democrats of his day, such as Senator Shelby of Alabama.

In short, President Kerry will only be able to govern if he is able to split the Republican Party. The split has already opened thanks to the White House's ideology of total control and the embarassment and chaos it has caused; Bush's defeat will open it much wider, freeing Republican moderates to acknowledge the insanity of the past three and a half years. But Kerry must complete the split, just as Reagan completed the split of the Democratic Party, and we must allow/encourage him to do it. Otherwise, we're doomed to watch him negotiate the terms of surrender of his presidency to a soulless cat-murderer.

This sounds a lot like the advice Lloyd Bentsen was giving Bill Clinton in January of 1993: that Clinton's legislative initiatives would be successful only if he could simultaneously persuade the Democratic left that he was on their side and pushing the limits of the politically possible while also persuading the bipartisan center--Breaux, Shelby, Chaffee, Kassebaum, and company--that he was on their side and that they were co-owners of his policy agenda. This would have been a neat trick. However, Clinton failed to do this. (But, given his failure to accomplish this neat trick, he did get an amazing amount of constructive things done.)

Posted by DeLong at June 21, 2004 11:25 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

One way to bring these moderate Republicans AND Sen. McCain on board would be to find sensible places to reduce government spending to go along with perhaps modest tax increases. Of course, Bush cannot seem to bring himself to do either part of this fiscally responsible package. IMO - the Democrats in the Senate should give President Kerry all the room he needs to find responsible spending cuts in the bloated Bush budgets.

Posted by: Harold McClure on June 21, 2004 11:38 AM


It's nice advice, but totally wrong.

The lesson of the Clinton administration is that attempting to reach across the aisle to Republicans, even moderate ones, will be unrelenting attacks, rumor mongering, and bogus investigations.

The first order of business is to show that you are tough.

There are any number of prominent Republicans (Delay and Perle immediately come to mind) who will go to jail if an honest and diligent investigation of their practices come about.

Do this.

Number two on the list is to ensure that for those members who refuse to observe a basic level of comity in the legislative process (again pretty much all Republicans), programs that benefit your district will be reviewed very closely.

Number three is to enforce some party discipline on crucial issues (primarily balancing the budget) with Democrats.

For Democrats are not willing to balance the budget, cuts will come from their districts.

If there is a lesson from Clinton's 8 years, it is that Republicans will wipe their feet on anything marked "welcome".

Posted by: Matthew Saroff on June 21, 2004 11:45 AM


I think you mean Jan. 1, 1992?

Posted by: LowLife on June 21, 2004 12:27 PM


As Arlen Specter nearly found out, the primary challenges will keep centrist Republicans from collaborating too closely with a Democratic President.

Posted by: john on June 21, 2004 12:30 PM


I thought he meant 1993.

Posted by: KevinNYC on June 21, 2004 01:01 PM


Except that Arlen Specter got a primary challenge for collaborating insufficiently closely with a Republican President, john. I'm not saying you're necessarily wrong, but your evidence is faulty.

Posted by: schwa on June 21, 2004 01:03 PM


Look at 1993-2000.

Lots of moderate Republicans were targeted for not towing the line.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff on June 21, 2004 01:10 PM


I agree with "getting tough". Kerry should tell McCain, Lugar, Hagel, and the few others in the GOP that aren't totally dirty that they will own the franchise once Americans are done acheiving accountability for the corruption and incompentence thrust upon us over the last three years. That should be enough to win their cooperation, especially since a return to accountability is vital to our continued existence as a favored country.

A Kerry victory will be short-lived if he doesn't push for this answer to a critical need.

Posted by: dennisS on June 21, 2004 01:38 PM


Schwa -- I do not think you are right on Specter.
His opposition was from the extreme right because he was too liberal. Bush even went to PA. to campaign for him.

Posted by: spencer on June 21, 2004 02:11 PM


I'm trying to remember all of Clinton's constructive legislation enacted. There's NAFTA and welfare reform, but after that I'm drawing a blank.

It's easier to think of areas where he didn't get effective legislation, such as solvency of Social Security and Medicare. Hillary's health care initiative didn't pass. Nothing dealing with Islamist terror. No Campaign Finance Reform. No big education bill, nor prescription drug coverage in Medicare. The effort to reform the federal workforce accomplished very little.

Posted by: David on June 21, 2004 03:53 PM


The biggest factor is that the GOP knows what to do *to* Kerry - launch an unrelenting series of attacks, using as many charges as possible, repeated over as many media channels as possible. It kept Clinton on the defensive for most of his term, and helped the GOP gain Congress.

They won't let Kerry determine the agenda, if possible. They'll strike long before he assumes office, and keep it up until after he's out of office.

Posted by: Barry on June 21, 2004 04:43 PM


This sort of approach, in a general sense, seems to be perfectly reasonable. Absent of some Contract with America-like storm, the Democrats will almost certainly not take back the House in the few congressional elections during Kerry's potential first term. They may be able to make meaningful gains that chip away at the GOP advantage, but even that may be wishful thinking.

Additionally, for another only tenuously related topic, what's this that I've heard about Hagel, or some other senator from a state around Nebraska, being more likely than McCain to run with Kerry?

Posted by: Brian on June 21, 2004 06:20 PM


I'll throw my chips in with Matthew above. Part of Clinton's approach to this was to include at least some moderate Republicans in his administration. Some of them took on prominent roles, such as Secy of Defence. In Bush's administration, what nod to conciliation did the Democrats get: Norm Mineta?

As to trying to gain cooperation from the moderates, another tragic story would be that of William Weld, former R-Gov. of MA. His appointment as ambassador was cut down by Sen. Jesse Helms. The other moderates didn't exactly intervene to keep the bridges from burning.

And even now, McCain made a public appearance with Bush to publicly endorse him, which, given the 2000 primary season, should have been totally humiliating.

Democrats have to better educate their Left, so that they don't completely undermine the party with shortsighted, radical (and usually wrongheaded) demands on the rest of the party. The party has to get in control of its image and to promote its overall spirit with better advertising and oratory. It needs better access to the airwaves, and it has to use it intelligently.

Courting anyone on the Right, though, is demonstrably a lost cause.

Posted by: Pete Coffee on June 21, 2004 08:47 PM


What Matthew Saroff said. I particularly agree with the notion of putting Republican criminals in the jailhouse. I also predict the Democrats would be to wimpy to do it.

Posted by: liberal on June 22, 2004 04:40 AM


Old thread I know but I couldn't let this go.

While I agree that retaking the house is a bit of a longshot this year, laying the groundwork for finishing the task in 2006 is quite possible.

In my state (WA) alone there are 2 currently GOP seats that stand a very good chance of going to the Democrats, one is in a lean D district (8th) and the other is in a lean R (5th). I know for a fact that these aren't the only seats in the country that the Democrats have a good chance of taking from the GOP.

Remember that the GOP margin in the house only requires that the Democrats win 12 seats to take control back. If the DCCC is smart they will target the 20 or so seats they have the best chance of taking.

I realize there is the problem of the Texas redistricting, and we do need to defend the seats threatened by that but I still think that at worst we will have narrowed the margin once the election is over.

In addition we need to start working on the handful of moderates left on the GOP side in the house. Find out what it would take to convince them to switch parties or at least vote for Pelosi as speaker. Some of these people have got to be sick to death of the DeLay and Hastert show by now.

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