Opinion | The destructive myth about divided government

And voters must understand that as long as Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the Senate majority leader and the base of the Republican Party is dominated by the far right — including “Stop the Steal” Trumpists — a divided government is not a recipe for compromise. Instead, it’s a ticket to obstruction and the very sort of partisan brawling that moderate voters can’t stand.

The belief that divided government guarantees moderate outcomes might once have been true when there was a solid moderate bloc in the Republican Party. But it should now be clear that it’s a destructive myth.

Since Barack Obama’s presidency, the GOP’s leadership has been committed to preventing a Democratic president from governing successfully — even when that president is willing and eager to compromise.

Recall in 2009, during the steepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, that all but three Republican senators (two of whom are now gone) refused to support a desperately needed stimulus package. And to get those votes, Obama had to cut it to well below what the economy needed.

Few were more committed to bipartisanship than the man who insisted that there was not a red or a blue America. Yet Obama makes the lesson of the stimulus fight plain in “A Promised Land,” his recently published memoir.

Both McConnell and then-House Republican leader John Boehner, he writes, realized that if “they fought a rearguard action, if they generated controversy and threw sand in the gears, they at least had a chance to energize their base and slow me and the Democrats down at a time when the country was sure to be impatient.”

There is no evidence — not a shred of it — that things have changed since then, except for the worst. Indeed, in 2008, Republicans at least acknowledged that Obama had won the election. This time, Republican leaders have either refused to stand against Trump’s outright lies about a rigged election or are actually abetting his attack on our democracy (see: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California).

It’s true that at least a few Republican senators still feel the tug of governance. On Tuesday, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) joined Democratic Sens. Joe Machin III of West Virginia, Mark R. Warner of Virginia and Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine in proposing a compromise $908 billion economic rescue package. That’s not nearly enough, but it’s nice to see that at least some Republicans are making the case for action.

On Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaled which side is actually open to compromise when they embraced the bipartisan measure as the basis for immediate negotiations.

You have to hope that McConnell feels the pressure, but he also worries about right-wing senators who, having blown up the deficit in 2017 by enacting a big tax cut, are now donning their fiscal prudence costumes to block relief.

And even if this Congress passes something before the end of the year, it’s likely to fall short of the economic “bridge” Biden has rightly said the economy needs until a vaccine takes full effect. There is no reason to believe McConnell will want to help Biden get more done after Jan. 20.

What the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the Georgia Democrats running for the Senate, need to tell their voters is that Democratic control is the only hope for a robust and widely shared economic recovery.

And they can assure moderate voters that radicalism won’t be on the table since progressives would have to negotiate with middle-of-the-roaders such as Manchin, Warner and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to get anything passed. But unlike McConnell, all three members of this moderate trio want to get things done — and want the new president to succeed.

Warnock and Ossoff can also remind those who worry about “defunding the police” that the surest way to guarantee cutbacks in police, fire fighting and other basic services is for Congress to go along with the Republican right’s refusal to provide financial assistance to state and local governments.

Biden will keep talking about bringing the country together. That’s good. But he’ll have a better chance of success with a Senate that doesn’t define its purpose as throwing “sand in the gears” of good governance.

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