Spotlight dims chances of bipartisanship

The danger of campaigning on a pledge to “unite the country” is that if you win, your opponents get to decide whether you will succeed. That’s the dilemma now facing President Joe Biden — and the best way for him to achieve his goal is not to make too big a deal of it.

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Opinion

February 3, 2021 - 9:03 AM

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., looks on as President Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

The danger of campaigning on a pledge to “unite the country” is that if you win, your opponents get to decide whether you will succeed. That’s the dilemma now facing President Joe Biden — and the best way for him to achieve his goal is not to make too big a deal of it.

In political terms, unity will have to take the form of bipartisanship, given the math in Congress. And the extent to which Biden is already getting trolled by Republicans for not being unifying underscores one of the great paradoxes of presidential leadership: A president’s engagement on an issue can make it harder to resolve.

As Frances Lee writes in her 2009 book on Congress, “Beyond Ideology,” in the modern era of close elections and frequent swings in partisan control, there are “inherent zero-sum conflicts between the two parties’ political interests.” In other words, it would be a big win for Biden to get substantial bipartisan support for his initiatives — which is exactly why Republicans won’t give it to him.

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