Divided Government Means Back to Normal | Opinion

Regardless of the final tabulations in House and Senate races this November, President Joe Biden will benefit from one all-but-certain result of the midterm elections.

If, as widely anticipated, Republicans win at least a narrow House majority, the president will finally be able to fulfill the most significant promise of his 2020 campaign: bringing the nation "back to normal." America will at long last enjoy the divided government that voters have clearly preferred over the last 70 years. In recent history, one-party rule over the White House and both houses of Congress has been the exception, while split partisan authority remains very much the norm. For nearly two-thirds of the time since Harry Truman left the White House (46 of 70 years), our constitutional scheme has allowed chief executives to function with the opposition enjoying at least evenly split authority in at least one House of Congress.

Even though the current alignment rests on the shaky foundation of Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote to exercise nominal control of the evenly divided Senate, the current president initially succumbed to delusions of grandeur. His sweeping, free-spending reform agenda came packaged with silly comparisons to FDR and LBJ, who, unlike Biden, enjoyed lopsided congressional majorities.

Now, with Kevin McCarthy likely to become Speaker of the House in January, that temptation promptly disappears. Washington will resume its status as a center of bargaining and bickering, forcing the two parties to coexist as they did during the most successful administrations of the modern era. Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama each spent at least six of their eight years in office with the opposition party controlling one or both Houses of Congress. In fact, the only president since LBJ to spend his entire term with his own party in firm control of both legislative chambers was Jimmy Carter—who lost his second-term bid in an ignominious 44-state blowout.

If nothing else, a GOP takeover of the House (a Senate takeover is far less likely), would help Biden by forcing the restive, militant progressive faction of his own party to tamp down its grandiose demands and expectations for the aging incumbent. It would also compel the newly empowered Republicans to devise an agenda of their own, beyond stubborn resistance to all things Biden. If both sides put competing plans on the table, collaboration and compromise becomes at least conceivable, if not always successful.

US Capitol building
The US Capitol in Washington, DC, on September 14, 2022. Stefani Reynolds / AFP/Getty Images

As to preparations for the presidential sweepstakes in 2024, the elevation of a younger generation of conservative leaders to positions of congressional leadership and key posts as committee chairs would provide an alternate center of power and energy to the personal preoccupations of the Master of Mar-a-Lago.

Fixation on the old and tiresome battles over the allegedly stolen election of 2020 can only damage both parties by depressing public enthusiasm for new, more substantive battles in 2024.

Republicans won't inspire new recruits to their cause by revisiting their grievances concerning an election they lost, and Democrats can hardly generate fresh enthusiasm by merely reiterating the core legitimacy of the president installed in 2021. The very nature of the argument is demeaning and distracting for partisans on both sides, and deeply depressing for ordinary citizens perplexed by other problems, like street crime and a struggling economy, that more directly impact their lives.

In this context, President Biden's current effort to wage a war of extermination against "MAGA Republicans" is completely wrong-headed, implying the pursuit of goals he can't possibly achieve. Even if Democrats win unexpectedly strong support on election day, those MAGA Republicans won't suddenly surrender or magically disappear. The president may alarmingly insist that the mere existence of such people threatens the survival of democracy. But no party in American political history has ever launched a serious effort to eliminate its opposition as its principal aim in any election, and the very nature of such an effort discredits the would-be destroyers.

Divided government may not to be easy or smooth, as the pointless government shutdowns in the Clinton and Obama administrations illustrated. But it represents the healthy operation of our constitutional system's checks and balances to stymie any force or faction that attempts to overreach. When the voters get the sense an administration intends to trample dissent and dissenters, they often apply a check and balance of their own—hence the consistent, instinctive reaction against ambitious chief executives in the first midterm election they face after inauguration. The more audacious an administration's initiatives, the more decisive the rebuke: with Clinton's Democrats losing 54 House seats in 1994, and Republicans flipping an amazing 63 in 2010.

Cynics may dismiss this pattern as an accident or coincidence, but the people know what they're doing: restoring the divided government the Founders intended and anticipated.

Michael Medved hosts a daily radio talk show and is author, most recently, of God's Hand On America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era. Follow him on Twitter: @MedvedSHOW.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.