Joe Biden campaigned on his ability to restore comity to Washington, D.C., work across party lines, and put nation above party. He did the exact opposite after his election. The press conveniently forgot his campaign promises, subordinating them to the need to confront a series of supposed existential crises—saving humanity from COVID-19, saving democracy from Donald Trump and white supremacists, and saving the world from carbon. With Republicans poised to capitalize on Biden’s missteps in domestic and foreign policy, Democrats and their media allies are poised to suddenly recall their preference for compromise after the midterm elections.
Democrats have redefined compromise to mean moving the nation in their preferred direction, but at a slower pace. While the press fawns over Democrats willing to adopt radical positions contrary to their constituents’ preferences and well-being, it brands Republicans as unhinged radicals for sticking to their conservative principles. Democratic officials pushing decarceration policies in the face of rising crime rates, increased government spending and borrowing in the face of record inflation and debt, and expensive housing regulations in the face of rampant urban homelessness are routinely lauded for their compassion and courage. Democrats who vote to the left of their public positions, like Senator Bob Casey’s (D-Pa.) support for abortion rights, do not face harsh press scrutiny.
Democrats face little pushback for promoting legislation that includes public funding for abortions, a new right to abortion up until birth, and the denial of conscience-based protections, despite opposition from a majority of voters. The media are less kind to Republicans who adhere to traditional notions on abortion or gender; who want to protect law-abiding gun owners’ Second Amendment rights; or who oppose increased taxes, spending, and regulation.
The press does appreciate Republicans with the courage to stand up to their own party—for example, Sen. Mitt Romney marching with Black Lives Matter protesters, Rep. Adam Kinzinger voting to impeach Trump, and Rep. Liz Cheney saying House Republican leadership “enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism.” Rep. Henry Cuellar and former congressman Dan Lipinski, two of the last pro-life Democrats in Washington, were not similarly praised for following their convictions in defiance of their party. Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are scorned for sticking to modestly centrist fiscal preferences in the face of overwhelming pressure from their party’s liberal base. Their motives are questioned and assumed to be driven by campaign donations rather than true conviction.
Democrats have mastered the ability to talk about compromise while attacking Republicans for not giving them more of what they want. Recent bipartisan legislation—from Biden’s infrastructure bill to gun control proposals—do not require Democrats to support anything they oppose, while moderate Republicans give ground to appear reasonable. Democrats have not paid a political price for their hypocrisy; they have benefitted from their ability to weaponize the notion of compromise.
Then-senator Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling in 2006 under President George W. Bush, saying “increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally.” As president, he dismissed his vote as merely political and harshly criticized congressional Republicans for wanting to vote as he had, which he characterized as “holding a gun to the head of the American people.” Obama and Biden voted against confirming John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, despite acknowledging both men had the requisite training and intellect, citing their beliefs and likely rulings. They later insisted Republicans should not apply the same standard to Democrats’ nominees. While Republicans shoulder routine accusations of breaking norms, polarizing the nation, and threatening the republic for refusing to rubber-stamp debt limit increases and Democratic judicial nominations, Democrats are lauded for doing the same.
Democrats defend their tactics by claiming Republican extremism poses a unique threat to self-governance. The same voices said Bush was too ignorant, John McCain lacked the necessary temperament, and Romney was too extreme. Democrats today are spending millions to support Republican primary candidates they deem right-wing radicals, hoping they will be easier to beat in November and undermining Republicans more likely to compromise. This cynical attempt to manipulate voters undermines the sincerity of the claims that Republicans pose a singular threat to democracy.
After winning the majority this November, Republicans should learn to compromise in a way that advances their convictions. Republicans should advocate for school choice, border security, domestic energy production, targeted tariffs on Chinese goods, antitrust enforcement against oligopolistic Big Tech companies and health care systems, and more, and then challenge Democrats to meet them halfway. These issues are popular with the American people, but require Democrats to break from their most radical and ardent supporters. Force Democrats to choose between the American people and teachers’ unions, radical race theorists, environmental extremists, progressive prosecutors, and their donors. Republicans should learn from Democrats and use compromise to play offense, not defense.