MINOT, N.D. — You don’t get to govern if you don’t win elections, but what politicians do to win elections may make it all but impossible for them to govern.
This thought occurred to me during a recent interview with Senator Kevin Cramer for my podcast.
We were discussing President Donald Trump’s recent war of words with a group of Democratric congresswomen — “the squad” as they call themselves — and Cramer defended the President by arguing that it was an astute political maneuver. “The squad” represents the most extreme faction of Democrats in elected office, and Cramer thinks it’s smart to force Democrats to line up behind them in defense.
He’s not alone in that sentiment. Per CNN, at least one unnamed Democratic House member agrees. “"What the President has done is politically brilliant,” this lawmaker told the cable news outlet. “Pelosi was trying to marginalize these folks, and the President has now identified the entire party with them."
But is public service about scoring points on the political opposition or making sound policy? I asked that of Cramer.
He acknowledged I had a point.
What’s good politically may not be good leadership, because how do you turn around and make compromises to advance important policy priorities with people you’re trying to inspire hate for in the political arena?
It’s a real dilemma because, as I noted at the beginning of this column, you can’t govern if you can’t win elections, and winning elections in this era of American politics means making your voters angrier than the other side’s.
It’s a dilemma baseball fans might be familiar with.
There has been a revolution in how the game is played. We now have data and analytics on every minute aspect of how the players play and team managers are deploying it to win more games. Everything from extreme defensive shifts to starting games with an “opener” relief pitcher has become the norm.
And it’s working, in the aggregate.
The teams using these tactics are mostly seeing success, but at what cost? For the fans the result on the field — with all the pitching changes, etc., etc. — is far less entertaining.
Both game attendance and TV ratings are down for Major League Baseball.
What end is served by baseball tactics which win games but alienate fans? But if teams stick to traditional tactics they’ll lose more games.
What’s the point of winning elections if our country is so paralyzed by hateful, divisive politics it can’t be governed?
But what’s the point of entering the political arena if you won’t do what it takes to win elections so you can govern?
Maybe Trump’s war with “the squad” is good politics. Alternatively, maybe “the squad’s” equally hateful and divisive rhetoric is good politics for Democrats.
I guess the election outcomes will tell us eventually, but meanwhile who is leading the country?
Nobody, it seems.
Governing has become merely something the politicians do look busy between election cycles, and those cycles are getting longer.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.