According to a story in today's New York Times, a number of Republican congressional candidates are attempting to persuade voters of their willingness to buck their own party leadership and work constructively with Democrats. Even the very conservative Senate candidate Richard Mourdock from Indiana, who defeated moderate Republican Richard Lugar in the primary, is touting his ability to "work with anyone." This new strategy represents a sharp break from the aggressively oppositional rhetoric that was so successful for Republican candidates in the 2010 midterm elections. It's an obvious effort to appeal to independent voters, who tend to turn out in presidential election years, less so in the off years.
The question is whether these tactics foretell a real trend toward a more harmonious Congress, or a ploy to secure more Republican seats and advance the Republican agenda. There are good reasons to suspect the latter. We have seen no signs that the Republican congressional leadership is any more interested in compromise with Democrats on budget and other issues than they have been so far. If Republicans maintain or increase their numbers in the next Congress, we can probably expect no more cooperation with the Obama administration that they showed in the current Congress, which will probably go down as one of the least productive in history. In fact, once this election is over, politicians' thoughts will start turning to 2014 and 2016, and we might expect Congressional Republicans to become even more intransigent. In other words, voters have every reason to be distrustful of Republican candidates promising to act more independently in an effort to secure support from independents. Once the election is over, these candidates are not likely to act as independently of party leadership as they claim.
On the other hand, the tactics of extreme obstructionism may have run their course. The Republican strategy of reflexively and almost unanimously opposing everything the Obama administrations proposed,is itself almost unprecedented. There have been few times in history when major Democratic initiatives have failed to secure a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives, but this has happened repeatedly during the Obama administration. This did not happen because those Democratic proposals were especially radical. Rather, Republicans deliberately adopted this strategy at the very outset of the Obama administration--on Inauguration Day in fact--to make President Obama and the Democrats look more extreme than they are, to try to block their main policy proposals, and to deny President Obama a second term. To some extent, that strategy has already failed, as Democrats were able to pass their main objectives in the first two years of Obama's first term, and as voters mainly blame the Republicans for Congressional inaction in the second two years. Once President Obama is re-elected, the other main objective of the strategy of obstructionism will also have failed. At that point, there should be less reason for individual Congressmen and Senators to oppose automatically every item the Democrats support. That allows for at least the possibility of a more constructive Congress next year.
During this campaign season, however, I would advise independent voters to be suspicious of Republican candidates' promises to act in a more independent, cooperative way. They are not likely to do that unless the Republican Congressional leadership decides that their current strategy is no longer working.