The basic theory—explained to me between weary sighs and defeated shrugs—goes like this: Washington is at an impasse that looks increasingly unbreakable. President Donald Trump is dug in; so is Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Democrats have public opinion on their side, but the president is focused on his conservative base. For a deal to shake loose in this environment, it may require a failure of government so dramatic, so shocking, as to galvanize public outrage and force the two parties back to the negotiating table.

In these interviews, I heard an array of macabre hypotheticals—from airplane crashes to food-safety scares, TSA strikes to terrorist incidents. But the one theme that ran through every conversation was a sense that the current political dynamics won’t change until voters get a lot angrier.

“This is all pageantry,” a Democratic House aide said of the posturing between Trump and Congress. “It’s going to take a big national event to move things. I mean, we’re at a standstill.”