From the Right



Tension between president and congress is politics as usual

Michael Barone on

Harry Truman, after his surprise 1948 victory, wasn't able to get his liberal policies through a Democratic Congress. Dwight Eisenhower, at loggerheads with conservative Republicans, was not displeased when they lost their thin majorities in 1954.

By 1963, political scientist and FDR biographer James MacGregor Burns was writing "The Deadlock of Democracy: Four-Party Politics in America." Like many such works, it accurately described the recent past, but it did not foresee how Lyndon Johnson would push his Great Society through a Democratic Congress in 1965.

Over the next 30 years, presidents and their congressional parties wandered into and out of alignment with each other. Many of Richard Nixon's toughest Watergate critics were Republicans. Gerald Ford's old congressional colleagues sustained his vetoes, but not by much. House Speaker Tip O'Neill was openly contemptuous of Jimmy Carter's closest aides.

Ronald Reagan got a bipartisan majority for his tax cuts in 1981, but Bob Dole pushed back with smaller tax increases in 1982. George H.W. Bush lost half his congressional party when he broke his read-my-lips-no-new-taxes vow in 1990. Bill Clinton worked with Democratic majorities in 1993, but they couldn't pass Hillarycare in 1994.

In that perspective, the recent two decades of close presidential/congressional alignment looks more like the exception than the rule. The Framers purposefully established something less like an efficient government and more like an arena of conflict. Presidents and members of Congress are elected at different intervals by different constituencies.

The dealignment of Trump and congressional Republicans may be unnerving, but it's not abnormal.


Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News and World Report. Distibuted by Creators Syndicate Inc.


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