At a Bipartisan Policy Center panel this week, Geoffrey Kabaservice, author of Rule and Ruin, a new book on the decline of moderate Republicans, noted that even during President Reagan’s administration, the need to bargain with GOP centrists restrained conservatives from some ideological crusades that could alienate swing voters. But with moderates marginalized, Kabaservice says, GOP conservatives routinely push ideology to the point “that they can’t sell their program anymore” on issues such as transforming Medicare. Democrats haven’t faced as great an imbalance, but they could if the ranks of their congressional centrists diminish further.
Each party is more ideologically monolithic than it was in the period that Caro recounts, making politics more rigid and absolutist. Once in power, Republicans, in particular, but also Democrats, concede much less to opposing views than in Johnson’s day. Yet the nation is likely to divide almost evenly between the two sides in 2012. Against that backdrop, all-or-nothing politics in 2013 will produce either stalemate or explosive polarization (if one side tries to impose its agenda with a slim majority). Building inclusive coalitions that harmonize diverse views is more difficult now than in Johnson’s time. But it’s no less essential.