President Trump continues to draw enormous crowds at rallies across America’s heartland even as Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats continue to move towards impeachment. National polls show all the leading Democratic candidates extending their leads over Trump, but national polls can be misleading. The U.S. doesn’t hold a national election and Trump remains extremely popular with his base. Despite the Democrats’ leads in the polls, another recent survey found that a majority of Americans believe Trump will be reelected.
However the election turns out, a large portion of America is going to be very angry.
It would seem our system of government isn’t working for the vast majority of Americans, most of whom identify as either conservative or liberal, if not Republican or Democrat. The right is enraged the Democrats are trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election, as they see it, while the left is enraged – well, Trump just seems to enrage them, period, no matter what he does.
Unfortunately, neither of America’s largest political tribes seems able to conceive of stripping the federal government of any of the enormous power it holds, most of which is arguably illegitimate per a strict reading of the Constitution, past SCOTUS rubber stamp decisions notwithstanding. The left has suggested eliminating the Electoral College and packing the Supreme Court with progressive-minded judges, both moves which would result in even more concentrated power in Washington. Meanwhile the right has lined up behind Trump’s use of flimsy “national emergency” reasoning to usurp everything from war powers to gun control to tariffs from Congress.
So, if the political acrimony can’t be diminished by reducing the power of the federal government and major constitutional changes are unlikely to succeed, what can Americans do besides go on hating each other until something worse than Twitter rants become the norm?
One answer may be to make it easier for Americans to get what their voting patterns consistently say they want: gridlock.
Nonstop anger has been a constant in American political life for this entire century. But if you ask most Americans what the opposing political party has actually done that has offended them, there are only a handful of concrete answers.
For the left, it was the Iraq War, the Patriot Act and tax cuts during the Bush administration; for the right, Obamacare more than anything else during Obama’s reign. President Trump hasn’t really signed any significant new legislation besides the 2017 tax reform. That and his handling of immigration under existing law are probably the only two concrete things Democrats could come up with for why they hate him so. The rest is just personality politics.
All these successful bills over which Americans have vehemently disagreed in recent decades share one thing in common – they were all passed when one party held the White House and both houses of Congress. And except for the 2002 and 2004 elections, while America was still in hunker down mode after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, American voters consistently have reacted by taking away at least one house of Congress from the party holding the White House.
Contrary to what the media constantly tell us or what the hardcore minority bases in either party might say, the American electorate as a whole seems to prefer gridlock to Congress “getting something done.”‘
Congress already possesses the power to override state election laws, “except as to the Places of chusing Senators.” Congress asserted this power in 1845 to mandate all states hold presidential elections “the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.” It subsequently designated the same day for House and Senate elections.
Congress should reverse the latter statutes and mandate the opposite – that congressional elections must be held on a different day from presidential elections. If a constitutional amendment could succeed making that mandate even harder to overturn, so much the better.
Holding presidential and congressional elections on different days would allow voters to avoid playing “Washington Roulette” – voting for the president and Congress all at once and hoping there isn’t a one-party-sweep bullet in this years’ electoral chamber. Certainly, Americans could still elect one party to the White House and both Houses of Congress if they wanted. But recent electoral history suggests they wouldn’t if they could help it. And had separate elections been the rule for the past forty years, the legislation most unpopular with one side or the other might never have been passed.
“Get out the vote” proponents would complain that making Americans show up at the polls twice would reduce voter turnout, but that just begs the question of whether capturing the votes of those who would pass merely based on convenience really results in better elected officials. It would also likely be argued that separate elections would harm lower income earners who might not have the flexibility to get off from work to vote. That can easily be overcome with expanded polling hours.
What get-out-the-voters are really worried about is exposing how few Americans really care about federal elections. Most Americans already skip the midterms and only a slim majority vote in most presidential elections. Holding the presidential and Congressional elections on separate days would probably lower turnout for both and quell the perennial talk of a “mandate” from any one election for either party. That would be a bonus.
Americans have nothing to lose and everything to gain by holding their presidential and congressional elections on different days. Before taking drastic steps everyone will eventually regret, they should try this minor adjustment and observe the results. There is no better way to return “power to the people” than by giving them the option to impose gridlock on the federal government at their discretion.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.