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The nation needs two governing parties, and we're one short

Our Madisonian model of government is dependent on stable political parties that are able to govern. We appear to be one stable political party short.
Image: Heavily Guarded Nation's Capital Hosts Presidential Inauguration
American flags decorate the "Field of Flags" at the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol early morning ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021.Stephanie Keith / Getty Images

National Journal ran an interesting column today on the state of the Republican Party, paying particular attention to Sen. Rob Portman's (R-Ohio) unexpected retirement announcement this week. This quote was especially striking:

"If you want to spend all your time going on Fox and be[ing] an a**hole, there's never been a better time to serve," said Republican strategist Corry Bliss, a longtime adviser to Portman. "But if you want to spend all your time being thoughtful and getting s**t done, there's never been a worse time to serve."

To be sure, there's an unfortunate disconnect between the senator's reputation for "being thoughtful and getting s**t done," and Portman's actual record, but the quote from his longtime adviser is nevertheless important in the light it sheds on the direction of the GOP.

If you want to make Fox News appearances and repeat hollow talking points, the Republican Party is the place to be. If you want to govern, there's "never been a worse time" to be a GOP official.

This is, of course, an issue of particular interest to me because I wrote a book last year on the Republican Party abandoning its role as a governing party, giving up on serious policymaking to instead become a post-policy party. The current political landscape suggests the thesis is relevant anew.

Looking at the nation's capital, Democrats narrowly control Congress and the White House, and the party is exploring every possible avenue to advance its policy agenda. Democratic leaders have an ambitious to-do list, which they're eager to act on through legislation and presidential executive actions.

With the aforementioned Corry Bliss quote in mind, there's simply no meaningful interest among Democratic leaders right now to spend all their time on television "being an a**hole." The party is instead focused on its substantive goals.

As 2021 gets underway, conditions for Republicans appear ... different.

Ideally, in the wake of election defeats that left the GOP without any access to the levers of federal power, party officials would be taking stock and exploring new ways to convince the electorate that Republicans deserve an opportunity to govern.

What GOP leaders are instead dealing with are adherents of crackpot conspiracy theories, members who appear a little too eager to bring firearms onto the House floor, lawmakers who believe subverting democracy is tolerable in pursuit of partisan goals, a party that's wholly indifferent to the nation's many substantive challenges, and the question of how best to avoid accountability for a former president who incited a deadly insurrectionist attack on his own country's Capitol.

Some, like Rob Portman, who occasionally show a fleeting interest in governing, have decided the mess is simply too great -- and it's better to quit and pave the way for someone even more extreme, who wants to spend all his/her time going on Fox News and being an a**hole.

Our Madisonian model of government is dependent on stable political parties, eager to govern, engaging in serious debates about policymaking. It's been the source of continuity in our democracy for centuries now.

In 2021, we appear to be one stable political party short.

Rachel noted on the show last night that Democrats, in addition to trying to govern, are also "trying to figure out how to get something done without having to deal with that dumpster fire on the other side, because how can that be your governing partner?"

That need not be a rhetorical question.