A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

5-4 and 50-50 – NationalJournal.com

In News, Politics on April 8, 2012 at 09:18

5-4 and 50-50

The Supreme Court’s oral arguments on health care last week offered a nightmare preview of what could await Washington after the 2012 election: a political system that is closely, deeply, and even bitterly divided.

In the Court’s questioning on President Obama’s health care law, the ideological chasm could not have been greater between the five Republican-appointed justices and the four selected by Democrats. And the division of power between them could not have been more tenuous.

That’s not an unreasonable expectation for the alignment that the next election may produce on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The most reliable prediction about November may be that it leaves power in Washington more precariously balanced between the parties than it is today. Although Republicans are favored to maintain control of the House, few would be surprised if their majority recedes after the high tide of 2010. The next Senate could be split almost exactly in half, with the majority party probably holding fewer seats than the Democrats’ 53 today. And, although it’s conceivable that a recovering economy could allow President Obama to equal his first victory, it’s more likely that whoever wins the presidency will capture less than his 365 Electoral College votes and 52.8 percent of the popular vote from 2008.

In all, the most predictable message of 2012 is likely to be that after a surge toward the Republicans following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a tide of disillusionment with President Bush that lifted the Democrats in 2006 and 2008, and a sharp snap back toward the GOP in 2010, America has reverted to being a 50-50 nation. Which is, of course, exactly where we started this century after the 2000 presidential campaign that produced the closest thing to an electoral tie since 1880.

But although 2012 will likely show the parties again converging in strength, all evidence suggests that they are diverging even more in philosophy and agenda. In 2000, after all, Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative” who would govern as “a uniter, not a divider.” That proved more of a slogan than a compass. But this year, the two parties barely even gesture toward the aspiration of reconciliation.


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