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Why obstruction tactics will hurt Democrats

The past few weeks have been a treat for Democrats as Republicans have proven to be divided and incompetent. Infighting among Republicans killed the American Health Care Act. Tomi Lahren is off the air, and Steve Bannon is off the National Security Council. Every day seems to bring a new gaffe in the Trump administration or a damning development in the investigation into Russian collusion. Democrats are hurting from the election, but they can briefly gloat that Trump’s presidency has so far been as terrible as they predicted.

But if Democrats spend too long rooting for the Trump administration to fail, they may become just as incapable of governing as Republicans are. Democrats can’t expect to make careful, reasonable policies the next time they gain control of Congress or the presidency if, until then, they refuse to help the current administration govern.

Consider the American Health Care Act. After seven years of lambasting Obamacare and promising a replacement, Republican leadership produced a bill so bad that about 30 House Republicans wouldn't support it. Many of those Republicans belonged to the far-right Freedom Caucus, which had become so hopeful for an ultra-conservative replacement for Obamacare that they wouldn’t accept a more moderate plan.

When the Republican goal was to obstruct Obama’s policies, it was useful to rally the extreme faction of their party. Now that faction has become emboldened to obstruct other Republicans.

This narrative has played out across the party. Two years ago, John Boehner stepped down as Speaker after the far-right faction proved impossible to manage. Last month, Tomi Lahren was fired from the Blaze after mentioning that she is pro-choice. And there are hints of infighting among Trump’s advisors. Republicans are paying the price of rallying their extreme members with unrealistic promises.

Now, Democrats seem positioned to end up in the same mess. Consider how they threatened to filibuster Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation. I agree it’s unfair that Merrick Garland did not replace Antonin Scalia, but the Supreme Court needs a ninth member to break ties. The filibuster was likely symbolic, but it sends the message that Democrats don’t care if the government can function and that their first priority is to obstruct the Trump administration.

Going forward, Democrats need to moderate their obstruction. It’s important to defend civil rights and liberties under threat. But Democrats need to work with Republicans to govern, not just because it’s honorable to work with the opposition, but because Democrats will someday regain control of Congress or the White House, and they need to stay fit to lead.

Bhaskar Roberts is an electrical engineering major from Buffalo, N.Y. He can be reached at bhaskarr@princeton.edu.

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