The magic poison of negative partisanship

But here’s the thing: The goal of a political campaign may be to win, but the point of winning is to govern. And opposition to the other party isn’t a governing agenda, as the House GOP has been learning the hard way since January. It might feel good and pay dividends at the ballot box to promise a quick and easy repeal of the other party’s health-care reform law, but once the electoral victory has been achieved it becomes necessary to commit to an alternative.

What if the party is too riven by ideological disagreements to form a consensus about what that alternative should look like? And what if the negative partisanship that produced the electoral victory had the effect of papering over that lack of consensus and deferring a necessary confrontation with its consequences? In that case, the party’s electoral success will prove to be hollow.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the party will be forced to face its electoral comeuppance the next time. On the contrary, it’s entirely possible to imagine the Republican Congress passing nothing of significance during President Trump’s first two years in office — no repeal and replacement of ObamaCare, no tax reform bill, no infrastructure package — while still managing to hold onto both houses in the midterm election purely by running against “the liberal media.” On the other hand, it’s also possible to imagine the Democrats flipping both houses of Congress in 2018 while hammering away at Trump morning, noon, and night, and never offering a compelling alternative vision of the country and its future.

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