The odds are still incredibly low and the toxic and divisive atmosphere in Trump’s Washington will make any kind of bipartisan deal very difficult to achieve.
But maybe, just maybe, that could be a small ray of light at the end of this chaotic presidential tunnel—Trump makes conditions so bad that the impossible actually happens, the parties can work together on the nation’s problems.
Morton Keller: Julian, as your readiness to see a “small window” for bipartisanship grows, mine lessens. It seems evident that Trump is inexorably alienating more and more members of his own party. There's McCain and Flake in Nevada; there may well be McConnell and Ryan—the GOP congressional leadership—as well.
But I'm not sure that this in itself is a possible road to increased bipartisanship. That particular dance requires two partners. And while the bipartisan temptation for the GOP may be increasing, the incentive for the Democrats to accommodate them lessens. That was certainly the case during the decades when the Democrats dominated Congress. And just as the Republicans, in the flush of their 2016 control of Congress, showed little inclination to reach out to Democrats despite the narrowness of their majority, so was Obama's post-2008 majority uninterested in reaching out to the GOP. That, it appears, is the nature of our current political culture.
I question whether, as you observe, the Senate Republicans are “key” in fostering bipartisanship. One problem is that the “alt-right” element that does so much damage to GOP attempts at governance is being quickly matched by a Democratic “alt-left” equivalent comparably committed to political war to the death.
Does history offer any comfort? Not much. Truman's Marshall Plan triumph rested on both a widespread sense of world crisis and a massive PR campaign that would be difficult to imagine happening today. Of course an international or domestic crisis of comparable proportions could upset the apple cart. But even so evanescent a time of good feeling as that following 9/11 is difficult to imagine occurring today. The two sides are too polarized, too locked into their respective world views.
If I see any light at the end of the tunnel, it consists of the thought (hope?) that Trump's behavior will lead to bipartisan agreement that it is time to carve back the power of an Imperial Presidency and an Autonomous Bureaucracy, and foster a New Federalism that distributes government power to more democratic, more competitive sources, both public and private.
But I must admit that this remains a fairly remote hope rather than a possible or probable likelihood.
Zelizer: It could be that the crisis, comparable to a Cold War or civil rights battle, is President Trump himself. The deeper we get into this presidency, the clearer it becomes that this is not politics as usual and the potential for true instability is very serious. The crisis that triggers bipartisan action, with both parties concerned about the national interest, would be Trump's reckless leadership.
But we are in agreement that this is a far way off. The burden will be on Republicans, given they are the party that delivered this president, to make substantive and substantial offers that make it worthwhile for Democrats to move forward with legislation in a process that is now totally paralyzed.