There is a long-standing belief in Washington, more superstition than reality, that the opposing party needs to work with the president for the sake of its own self-interest. In 2009, Republicans in general, and Mitch McConnell in particular, discovered that the old saw wasn’t true. Voters hold the president responsible for outcomes, and if Washington appears to be broken, they punish him and his party.
And yet the myth lives on. Time’s cover story on Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer revolves around the alleged tension between Democrats’ desire to block Donald Trump and their political need to work with him. The thesis of the profile is as follows:
There are risks in playing the obstruction game. Stop popular parts of Trump’s agenda for too long and too persistently, and the party’s support can plummet … resistance may be inevitable. But it might also be futile. And it may even prove counterproductive to Democrats’ hopes of winning back a majority anytime soon.
The Time story does not supply even a single piece of evidence for this thesis. There is no data suggesting that voters will hold the minority party accountable if there is too much gridlock. (Because studies show just the opposite is true.) The story doesn’t even supply an anecdote to support it — is there an example of an opposing party that lost the midterm elections because it failed to help the president pass his agenda? Voters punished Republicans in 1998, but that was for taking the extreme step of impeaching the president over a sex scandal.
The most powerful beliefs are ones that people feel free to repeat without evidence. The evidence shows that if Trump’s agenda is stopped — even “popular” parts, whatever those are — voters will blame Trump and his party. The system would function better if that weren’t the case, but it is.