The Number That Explains Gridlock's Rise and GOP's Fall

I stumbled across a number on Thursday that says a lot about why Washington is gridlocked and the Republican Party is teetering on the edge of irrelevancy: 36 percent.

That is the fraction of Republicans who told the Pew Research Center that they like elected officials who make compromises with people they disagree with. Among conservative Republicans, twice as many prefer politicians who stick to their guns than those who compromise (60 percent versus 31 percent). Those numbers are largely unchanged from two years ago.

By contrast, 50 percent of all Americans say they like leaders who compromise, up 10 points from 2011. Democrats and independents are increasingly open-minded.

Currently, 59 percent of Democrats favor compromise, up from 46 percent in March 2011, according to Pew. There has been a 12-point increase in the percentage of independents expressing a preference for politicians who compromise.

What these findings suggest is that that the Republican Party is hostage to a hardheaded electorate that won't let its leaders practice the basic art of politics. Without compromise, in a democracy, nothing gets done.

To be clear, compromise doesn't need to equal capitulation. True leadership requires working with political enemies toward solutions that provide both sides ample wins and explainable losses.

The sturdy no-compromise wing of the GOP has put its leadership in a destructive catch-22. Republican leaders fear that if they work with Democrats to fix the nation's problems, GOP voters will punish them. But if they don't compromise, President Obama and other Democratic leaders justifiably cast the GOP as obstructionist, and independent voters flee.

It's no mistake that just one-third of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of the GOP, according to Pew, compared with 47 percent who hold the Democratic Party in high esteem.

Listen to Obama on Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event at which Republicans and Democrats preach comity and compromise. He took a subtle jab at Republicans. "I do worry that as soon as we leave the prayer breakfast everything we talked about ... will be forgotten," he said as the audience chuckled. "I go back to the Oval Office and I started watching the cable news networks, and it's like we didn't pray."

Speaking of cable news, conservative commentator Erick Erickson wrote a introspective farewell note to his CNN colleagues (he's headed to Fox News Channel). The missive is a small sign of just how polarized things have become in American politics--not just the institutions, but also the people.

"I've learned that some of the people I grew up thinking were in the enemy's camp, so to speak, are spectacular people who share many of the same interests and opinions I do," he wrote on his popular Red State site.

"I had to learn to be friends with people who I disagreed with," he said. "And I leave deeply caring for those people."

It's a lesson Erickson's party should heed.