As of today, there have been 12 Republican and nine Democratic primary debates, with more to come. In each exchange the candidates have been asked to explain their priorities. Donald Trump listed border security at the top of his list. Sanders said an equal economic playing field for all Americans was key. Kasich claimed the $12 trillion deficit was a national emergency. And Cruz promised he would devote his first 100 days in office to repealing the Affordable Care Act, the Iran nuclear agreement, Common Core, and every other measure Obama put forth. From job creation, terrorism and immigration, to tax and education reform, the candidates have offered an impressive list of "top priorities."
But are these issues really job number one for the next President of the United States?
And here's why: none of candidate's plans, intentions, or detailed programs matter if the impasse between the two parties persists. Think about it: would Clinton or Sanders have better luck getting the Senate to confirm a Supreme Court nominee than Obama? Would they be more successful at getting anything through the current Congress? And how about Cruz or Trump? Cruz's track record of bringing members of the Senate together is on par with Trump's claim that he can unify Hispanic, Muslim, women and black voters.
This week on The Costa Report, former Senator from Arkansas, Mark Pryor, compared the standoff between the Congress and Executive Branch today with similar conditions eleven years ago. As Bush was preparing to submit his court nominees, the Democratic leadership announced they would filibuster all of the president's nominees. To which the Republican establishment fired back threatening to change the filibuster rules to stop the Democrats. And for a while we faced an irresolvable stalemate -- with neither side willing to back down.
Recognizing that holding up confirmations for partisan reasons was not good for the American judicial system, seven Democrats and seven Republicans -- later known as the Gang of 14 -- bypassed powerful party leaders in order to broker compromise. According to Pryor, seven Democrats agreed to keep the party from filibustering so long as the seven Republicans promised not to change the rules.
So is a similar compromise possible today?
Pryor says it's unlikely. When asked if there are seven Democrats and Republicans who could come together Pryor said, "I was counting the other day... and there probably would be 14 that could come together today, but let me tell you, it was hard. The Republicans lost elections over that, because they were accused of working with Democrats." In an interview with the Associated Press, Pryor expressed even more skepticism, "We thought it was a fairly toxic political climate then, but it's worse today. There aren't as many moderates."
So, it turns out, job number one for the next president isn't building a wall or fixing the economy. It's not terrorism or creating jobs or getting rid of the IRS. Every one of these issues is a nonstarter if the next president has a greater polarizing effect than Obama. This year, voters would do well to take a look at the field of candidates in this light: which candidate will make the current impasse worse? Who is going to be able to work with the Senate and House? Who can get something done?
According to Trump, the same skill set he uses to bring parties with differing agendas together in business is transferrable to the political realm. And while that might sound theoretical, he isn't the first to make this assertion. Herbert Hoover, George Bush and Mitt Romney all had strong business negotiating skills they believed would benefit government. But according to the Washington Post, presidential candidates with business backgrounds don't have an advantage when it comes to running the economy: "The startling bottom line is that the nation's GDP has grown more than 45 times faster under presidents with little or no business experience than it has under presidents with successful business careers. And on average, when there has been a successful businessman in the Oval Office, GDP growth has been negligible. On average, under presidents with successful business experience, GDP has increased 0.12 percent. And under presidents with little or no business experience, GDP has grown 5.46 percent." The same skills business leaders use to get deals done don't seem to produce the same results in governance.
On the other hand, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, doesn't show any proof of being able to unify the two parties to get legislation through. She says maybe Republicans "don't like" her and has spent two decades claiming the "right wing conspiracy" is persecuting her and her husband. She calls the email and Benghazi scandals "partisan" and has gone so far as to say that the enemy she is proudest of having made are "the Republicans."
Yet former Senator from Mississippi, Trent Lott, recently told The Hill that after she is elected Clinton "would be much better about reaching out and actually trying to work with the Congress." According to Lott, Clinton would take a page from her husband's playbook and begin reaching across the aisle to get deals done. And he has a point. To this day, Bill Clinton is admired for his mediation skills with legislation like the Welfare Reform Act and the most comprehensive national deficit reduction plan in recent history. But that was Bill. Hillary is not Bill.
At the turn of the century, John Adams, was also concerned with the damage political gridlock could cause his country. Adams wrote: "Presidents must... unite the two parties, instead of inflaming their divisions. They must look out for merit, wherever they can find it; and talent and integrity must be a recommendation to office, wherever they are seen, though differing in sentiments from the president, and in an opposite party to that whose little predominance brought him into power." Senator Pryor agrees. "Unfortunately our society is very divided right now... we need leaders who can bring us together instead of divide us."