Gov­ern­ing is much harder than win­ning

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - Cokie and Steve Roberts Colum­nists Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­cokie@gmail.com.

The next pres­i­dent will have the dif­fi­cult task of form­ing an ef­fec­tive gov­ern­ing coali­tion in a par­ti­san cli­mate.

Amer­ica is so deeply di­vided to­day that vot­ers back­ing Donald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton don’t just live on dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents from each other.

They live on dif­fer­ent plan­ets.

If cur­rent trends con­tinue, and Clin­ton be­comes the next pres­i­dent, she will find that gov­ern­ing this frac­tured coun­try is a much harder job than win­ning the elec­tion.

Polls con­sis­tently show sharp splits along crit­i­cal fault lines: race and gen­der, ed­u­ca­tion and ge­og­ra­phy, ide­ol­ogy and party. But those fis­sures did not open this year. They’ve been widen­ing for decades, fu­eled by tec­tonic shifts in the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

Vot­ers are sort­ing them­selves into like-minded com­mu­ni­ties, lis­ten­ing to me­dia out­lets that re­in­force their pre­con­cep­tions, and grow­ing more hos­tile to oth­ers who don’t share their views.

“We’ve be­come a na­tion of ide­o­log­i­cally driven, po­lit­i­cally po­lar­ized par­ti­sans who in­creas­ingly es­chew the bar­gain­ing and com­pro­mise that have his­tor­i­cally lu­bri­cated pol­i­tics,” write po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young. “Not only are mod­er­ates gone from Amer­i­can pol­i­tics; mod­er­a­tion is gone as well.”

The lat­est ABC News track­ing poll gives Clin­ton a 9-point lead, but the horse race is less in­ter­est­ing than the in­ter­nal break­downs. Take race. Trump’s mar­gin among white vot­ers is 4 points; Clin­ton’s lead among non-whites is 54 points. Or gen­der. Women fa­vor Clin­ton by 20 per­cent; men back her by only 3 points. Or ed­u­ca­tion. Vot­ers with­out col­lege de­grees split al­most evenly; col­lege grad­u­ates sup­port Clin­ton by 25 points.

Com­bin­ing these vari­ables makes the mar­gins even greater. Men with­out col­lege de­grees fa­vor Trump 2 to 1; women with higher ed­u­ca­tion are the ex­act op­po­site.

These di­vi­sions play into longer-run­ning trends, one of which is the ide­o­log­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion be­tween the par­ties. Over the last gen­er­a­tion, two no­ble tribes in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics have be­come vir­tu­ally ex­tinct: pro­gres­sive Repub­li­cans, mainly from the North­east and Up­per Mid­west, and con­ser­va­tive South­ern Democrats. With­out their bal­ance and bal­last, Amer­ica is ap­proach­ing a Euro­pean model, with a lib­eral party called the Democrats and a con­ser­va­tive party called the Repub­li­cans.

A study by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter con­firms this stun­ning shift. To­day, 92 per­cent of Repub­li­cans are to the right of the av­er­age Demo­crat, com­pared to only 64 per­cent 20 years ago; 94 per­cent of Democrats stand to the left of the av­er­age Repub­li­can, up from 70 per­cent in the same pe­riod.

That po­lar­iza­tion has been ag­gra­vated by es­ca­lat­ing par­ti­san an­i­mos­ity. Thirty-eight per­cent of Democrats view the Repub­li­can Party “very un­fa­vor­ably,” more than dou­ble the num­ber from 20 years ago, and 1 in 4 see Repub­li­cans “as a threat to the na­tion’s well­be­ing.” Repub­li­cans are even more hos­tile, with 43 per­cent hold­ing highly neg­a­tive views of the Democrats and 36 per­cent see­ing the ri­val party as dam­ag­ing to the na­tional in­ter­est.

One re­sult of this ris­ing re­sent­ment is a de­cline in tick­et­split­ting. Madonna and Young re­port that as re­cently as 1972, 4 out of 10 Con­gres­sional dis­tricts di­vided their vote -- fa­vor­ing one party’s candidate for pres­i­dent, while back­ing at least one leg­is­la­tor from the ri­val party. To­day only 26 dis­tricts out of 435 -- about 6 per­cent -- dis­play that level of bi­par­ti­san­ship.

She will also be weighed down by her own past. As for­mer Repub­li­can se­na­tor Judd Gregg told The Hill: “For the first time in our his­tory, we will have a pres­i­dent who more than half the peo­ple don’t trust and don’t like.” That means she won’t have “a his­toric hon­ey­moon pe­riod ... un­less she cre­ates it.”

That’s the key. Can she cre­ate a new mood of flex­i­bil­ity and rea­son­able­ness in Wash­ing­ton? Can she bridge the enor­mous chasms sep­a­rat­ing Amer­i­cans? Can she find part­ners who are will­ing to defy the hard­lin­ers in both par­ties and re­store “the bar­gain­ing and com­pro­mise that have his­tor­i­cally lu­bri­cated pol­i­tics”?

As a se­na­tor, she did find those part­ners. But this is a dif­fer­ent time. The lines are harder, the hos­til­i­ties deeper. Form­ing an ef­fec­tive gov­ern­ing coali­tion in the cur­rent cli­mate will be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult -- but ex­tremely im­por­tant.

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