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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, February 7, 2017
This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on February 3, 2017

My face has yet to get ac­cus­tomed to win­cing ump­teen times a day at what both sides are do­ing these days. Not hav­ing been on the line dur­ing Sat­urday’s phone call between Pres­id­ent Trump and Aus­trali­an Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull, it’s hard to know ex­actly what happened, but it cer­tainly ap­pears that our newly min­ted pres­id­ent was something less than re­spect­ful to­ward the lead­er of one of our closest al­lies. Over the last 25 years, I’ve been to Aus­tralia a half dozen times and known plenty of Aus­trali­ans, both in and out of their gov­ern­ment. I’m ac­quain­ted with lead­ing mem­bers of both their Labor and Lib­er­al (which in Oz is ac­tu­ally con­ser­vat­ive) parties, sev­er­al who went on to be­come prime min­is­ters and an­oth­er one or two who should have.

It would be dif­fi­cult to say who is our closest ally, Bri­tain or Aus­tralia, but suf­fice it to say that the Aus­sies have been with us through thick and thin. They’ve sup­por­ted us when we were right and stuck with us when I sus­pect they thought we were wrong. It’s hard to ima­gine how, in an in­tro­duct­ory phone call between Trump and Turn­bull, things could have gone as wrong as they ob­vi­ously did. But that’s what bulls do when in­vited in­to china shops. A lot of crock­ery gets broken.

But watch­ing Demo­crats on Cap­it­ol Hill isn’t any more edi­fy­ing. It was truly dis­turb­ing when Re­pub­lic­ans did not provide the dig­nity of a hear­ing to Pres­id­ent Obama’s Su­preme Court nom­in­ee, U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals Judge Mer­rick Gar­land. But it’s every bit as dis­turb­ing to hear Demo­crats say they were go­ing to op­pose Trump’s nom­in­ee no mat­ter who it was or how qual­i­fied he might be. By any stand­ard, fel­low Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals Judge Neil Gor­such is every bit as qual­i­fied as Gar­land. In the era of Trump, we are see­ing con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats suck up to their base with the same single-minded­ness as Re­pub­lic­ans sucked up to theirs dur­ing the era of Obama.

It is dis­may­ing to watch the Sen­ate con­tin­ue in a death spir­al. The up­per cham­ber is los­ing the qual­it­ies that gave it a spe­cial place in our gov­ern­ment—un­lim­ited de­bate and rules de­signed to slow things down and make it a mod­er­at­ing in­flu­ence. The Found­ing Fath­ers in­ten­ded the House to be highly demo­crat­ic; its two-year terms made it very re­spons­ive to the will of the people. But the Founders’ view of the Sen­ate was dif­fer­ent. It would be more de­lib­er­ate and take a longer view. Ini­tially it wasn’t even elec­ted by voters but by state le­gis­latures.

But the Sen­ate lost stature when former Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id used the “nuc­le­ar op­tion” to re­duce the num­ber of votes from 60 to 51 to ap­prove pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tions be­low the Su­preme Court level. If Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell goes nuc­le­ar to win ap­prov­al of Neil Gor­such to the high court, then it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore a simple ma­jor­ity, not 60 votes, is need to cut off de­bate on le­gis­la­tion. At that point, the Sen­ate be­comes a re­dund­ancy, dif­fer­ing from the House only be­cause each state has equal rep­res­ent­a­tion. George Wash­ing­ton sup­posedly said that le­gis­la­tion was poured in­to the “sen­at­ori­al sau­cer” in or­der to cool it. The day is near when the Sen­ate will make de­cisions in the heat of the mo­ment.

In en­ga­ging in tit-for-tat hy­per-par­tis­an­ship, Demo­crats are not do­ing them­selves or the pub­lic any fa­vors. Most Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors and House mem­bers are from safe states and dis­tricts, so they have the lux­ury of at­tack­ing Trump policies and nom­in­ees without pay­ing a polit­ic­al price them­selves. But when Demo­crats act as pet­tily par­tis­an as Re­pub­lic­ans did dur­ing Obama’s pres­id­ency, they hurt the chances of the 10 Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors up for reelec­tion next year in states car­ried by Trump, five of which he car­ried by double di­gits. They could also jeop­ard­ize the dozen Demo­crat­ic House mem­bers rep­res­ent­ing con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts that Trump won.

With straight-tick­et vot­ing in­creas­ingly the norm, our sys­tem has be­come al­most par­lia­ment­ary. If voters watch a Demo­crat on tele­vi­sion be­hav­ing in an overly par­tis­an man­ner, they pro­ject that on every oth­er mem­ber wear­ing a blue jer­sey. When Sen­ate Demo­crats take an openly bel­li­ger­ent and par­tis­an tack, are they help­ing the reelec­tion of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia, a state that Trump won by 42 points? Are they help­ing Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, where Trump won by 36 points? In Montana, where Trump won by 20 points, Sen. Jon Test­er has to an­swer for his team, and so do Sens. Claire Mc­Caskill in Mis­souri and Joe Don­nelly in In­di­ana, both of which Trump won by 19 points. And while we’re at it, do Sen­ate Demo­crats really think that Mc­Caskill and Don­nelly would have won in 2012 if their op­pon­ents hadn’t been as far-out and ec­cent­ric as Todd Akin and Richard Mour­dock?

But those are just the Sen­ate Demo­crats in double-di­git Trump states. Sen. Sher­rod Brown is run­ning in Ohio, an 8-point Trump state, and Sens. Bill Nel­son (Flor­ida), Debbie Stabenow (Michigan), Robert Ca­sey (Pennsylvania), and Tammy Bald­win (Wis­con­sin) all face reelec­tion in states that Trump car­ried more nar­rowly. For that mat­ter, don’t for­get Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Min­nesota, a state that Hil­lary Clin­ton car­ried by 2 points but that is mak­ing Demo­crats nervous. Then con­sider that midterm elec­tions at­tract voters who are older, whiter, more con­ser­vat­ive, and more Re­pub­lic­an than in pres­id­en­tial years.

This is not to say that Demo­crats should rub­ber-stamp Trump nom­in­ees, only that they should fo­cus on the least qual­i­fied or most eth­ic­ally chal­lenged—and make sure that they are seen as play­ing things straight, not out of par­tis­an pique. This will give them great­er cred­ib­il­ity and suc­cess, as­sum­ing they want to be any­thing more than a minor­ity party in Con­gress. If they’re con­tent to throw spit­balls and damn the con­sequences, they can be as self-in­dul­gent as they wish.