“Pendulum politics” is a term that describes American government. Its parents are separation of powers and checks and balances. Its progeny is moderation.
American government is wisely designed to ensure that the country does not veer too far left or too far right for too long a time. If ever it tries, it inevitably, like a pendulum, swings back the other direction. The consequence is that hyper-partisan legislative behavior is unsustainable; politically extreme moves are promptly undone by the next administration. What remains are those parts of an agenda that have achieved bipartisan support.
Take the Affordable Care Act. It was passed in 2009 without a single Republican vote. When the pendulum swung back in 2016, Republicans gutted many of its more controversial provisions. But the prohibition on denying health care coverage because of pre-existing conditions? That, because of its bipartisan support, remains, even President Trump declaring his support.
In the past 104 years, the American president has been a Republican for 52 of those years, a Democrat for the remaining 52. As much as each party salivates at the idea of controlling the White House for a generation, it is not realistic. Even three consecutive terms of one party in the White House has proven mostly unachievable. Much more likely is that the pendulum will swing back before the third term is granted.
Consequently, a typical American will likely see about 40 years of Republican presidents in her lifetime — manifest in about five to seven people holding that office, and 40 years of Democratic presidents.
This raises the question to those who prefer Republican presidents: Knowing that the partisan pendulum will inevitably swing back, is Donald Trump really the card you want to continue to play with one of the limited Republican hands you’ll get in your lifetime?
Some might quip: “Obama got eight years, so now we get eight.” But consider this: Joe Biden has strongly suggested he will likely seek only one term as president. (While some might say that only tees up the more liberal Kamala Harris for the presidency, a sitting vice-president has ascended directly to the presidency via election only once in the past century.) Even were he to seek a second term, his reelection at age 82 would be far from certain, even outright unlikely.
Republicans would have an excellent chance of regaining the White House in four years, and could nominate someone who much more closely espouses the integrity, discipline and true conservative values Republicans claim to champion.
But if Republicans successfully push the pendulum further right through a Trump re-election, and allow him to continue to reshape their party in his image, history strongly indicates that the consequence will be a 2024 pendulum (or even a 2022 midterm) swinging left with force the country has perhaps not seen in a century, and which may culminate in Democrats receiving a blank check for a decade. Is four more years of Trumpism really worth that cost?
A central and admirable tenet of conservatism is a willingness to forgo present desires in exchange for longer-term prosperity. For this moderate, that longer term view is clear: Allow Joe Biden — the most moderate candidate Democrats are likely to nominate in the foreseeable future — to swing the pendulum a bit left for four years. Republicans will be primed to take the White House back in four years. The country having rejected Trumpism, the GOP can remove that stain from its own fabric by nominating an individual with true presidential character who can push the pendulum back to the right in an honorable — and more sustainable — fashion.
Adam Reiser, Millcreek, is a local attorney and a staunch believer in bipartisanship.