Amid heated exchanges over Medicare-for-all and the need to appeal to all factions of their diverse party, most Democratic candidates have also looked ahead to what might be the next president’s biggest challenge.

“The next president will inherit a divided nation, and a divided world,” former Vice President Joe Biden told a recent Dubuque, Iowa, town hall. “It’s going to require someone who can unify this nation.”

“I’m running to be the president who can turn the page and unify a dangerously polarized country while tackling those issues that are going to be just as urgent then as they are now,” South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said in last month’s Ohio debate.

“We … need someone who can unify the party and the country and who has the experience of having done that,” California Sen. Kamala Harris said in last week’s Atlanta debate. “I’ve done that work.”

But re-uniting a sharply divided country after the bitterly divisive presidency of Donald Trump — whenever that occurs — will take more than accurate analyses of the problem or optimistic pledges of being up to that task.

Like the old song “It Takes Two to Tango,” it will require not only the active bipartisan outreach from the next president but also the buy-in from leaders of whichever party loses the election that elects Trump’s successor, whether a Democrat in 2020 or a Republican later on.

History shows how hard it will be to lessen political acrimony and restore at least a semblance of the bipartisanship that once marked foreign policy and, at times, domestic issues.

The most positive modern example came 45 years ago, when the near certainty of impeachment and conviction persuaded Richard Nixon to yield the presidency to his vice president, former House Republican Leader Gerald Ford.

Ford ascended with three advantages. Most important, his accession ensured the 1972 will of the voters would be respected through Nixon’s second term.

Second, he was both Nixon’s choice (albeit reluctantly) for vice president when Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 and acceptable to the top congressional Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and House Speaker Carl Albert. They knew Ford well and appreciated his personal qualities.

Third, Ford set a positive tone from the moment he took the presidential oath and declared, “Our long national nightmare is over.” By later pardoning Nixon, Ford ensured that, despite initial partisan criticism, his tenure would focus on the country’s current problems, not the divisive, prior presidency.

In time, the onset of the 1976 election ensured the return of partisanship, but it was less acrimonious than it would have been without Ford’s positive leadership.

Another period of unity was the 2001 détente between former President George W. Bush and top Democrats after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. That brief era of good feeling ended when Bush invaded Iraq and many Democrats resisted.

But an opportunity was missed after Barack Obama, benefiting from divisions over the Iraq war and a sharp economic downturn, won the 2008 election with an optimistic message, a solid electoral majority and control of both houses of Congress.

Obama didn’t always adhere to his promises to set a new tone. And Republicans embraced opposition from the outset, resisting a needed measure to stimulate a recession-ridden economy and Obama’s landmark health care plan, though both contained GOP elements.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell pressured GOP colleagues against cooperating and proclaimed Obama’s defeat his main four-year objective.

Though the Kentucky senator failed, Obama’s tenure became increasingly partisan, in part because Republicans regained the House, and later the Senate, and in part because he often used executive authority to surmount congressional gridlock.

Obama’s successor, Trump, made no pretense of bipartisanship, making clear from the outset he would govern to please the minority of Americans who voted for him.

Today, as Trump faces impeachment and possible conviction, there are no Gerald Fords on the horizon. In the unlikelihood of Senate conviction, he would be succeeded by the ideologically rigid Mike Pence, who has spent three years as a Trump apologist.

Most importantly, any victorious Democrat or post-Trump Republican would have to put actions behind promises of unity and show willingness for significant compromise. More centrist hopefuls like Biden, Buttigieg or Sen. Amy Klobuchar would seem better bets than ideological liberals like Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine that any could surmount current divisions. It may require a real domestic or international crisis — and a resulting political shakeup — to force the kind of cooperation that seems so unlikely today.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com.

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(21) comments

simon1dog

Democratic intelligence: an oxymoron according to reliable sources

dougleonard6

The far left has helped dividing this country... Can not blame just the president due to Rovr hates him. Rovr is just as much to blame and Trump as he hates so much that the truth they are blinded by. They dont care about that little thing called hard evidence, just hear say and I heard this from the grapevine. Democraps are trying to make it out to be bad without just say so. All rovr can do is cut and paste from some fake source. And anonymous source does not equal truth....

HwyRovr

"HwyRovr" and when are Republiscums going to learn to write in English?

JVW

Doug [thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] The Party of Jim Crow. They are master's of Manipulation that stick to talking points. When that fails throw the race card, hurt feeling angle. Homophobe slur, Climate change, or the best we have seen lately Accuse Republicans of what of what democrats have been doing for years. Drag it out for years as if it's true. Grab a couple Lunatics to testify there opinion or reconciliation from 40 years ago Get them a Go-fund-me page if they do a good smear, make them Millionaires.

simon1dog

Doug - JVW - [thumbup]

HwyRovr

Please, answer the following:

1) If Trump is as innocent as he claims, then why is he blocking

the witnesses who have first hand knowledge to testify?

2) Why is Trump claiming the hearings were done in secret when the FACT is there were 45 republicans between three committees?

3) Why is Trump claiming these republicans on the committees could not ask questions, when they COULD ask questions?

4). Why is Trump claiming he and his attorney can not participate in the hearings. When they have been invited to participate?

5) Why doesn't Trump himself testify? Both Clintons testified in front of congress.

6). Why are Republiscums refusing to read the transcripts from both the Mueller report and the recent hearings?

HavasuGuy

I used to wonder how the hell Hitler came to power. After reading your message I understand how it happened, they didn't have any hard evidence to stop him - right doug?

HavasuGuy

Anything that comes after tRUMP is kicked out will be an improvement!

Proudindependent

I don't recall a lot of the conservatives supporting Trump during the primaries, they just fell in line like a cult after he was elected. I will vote for the candidate I believe best supports my moral and economic view points. If Trump is your moral character than enjoy, it will be fun to watch you all try to attack the character of future Democrats, Trump has set the bar so low it will take a monumental effort for anyone to ever go this low again.

JVW

Ben Carson 2024

simon1dog

JVW - [thumbup]

HwyRovr

Honestly you have to be one of the most ignorant people alive today! Ben Carson? Honestly? He's as nuts and goofy as Palin, Chemtrails Kelli and McNasty!

Mr Lemons

Strange that I never see a Democrat/progressive/leftist/socialist in these comments write which of the candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination that they support. They're quick to criticize President Trump for anything real or imagined (mostly imagined) and they have been criticizing non-stop for three years. But who are they for? Are they afraid to publicly support any of them due to the embarrassment of the list to choose from; Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Harris, Yang, Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Booker, Steyer, Gabbard, Castro, Bennet, Bullock, Patrick, and Sestak? Come on, Democrats. Who are you for?

HwyRovr

Since the decision of an actual candidate is months away we have no reason to talk about whom we are "for." However the current liar-in-chief is a known entity and it remains a mystery why anyone with even half a brain would support him...oh wait, I just answered my own question. Now let's see if any Republiscum can actually address the following -

1) If Trump is as innocent as he claims, then why is he blocking

the witnesses who have first hand knowledge to testify?

2) Why is Trump claiming the hearings were done in secret when the FACT is there were 45 republicans between three committees?

3) Why is Trump claiming these republicans on the committees could not ask questions, when they COULD ask questions?

4). Why is Trump claiming he and his attorney can not participate in the hearings. When they have been invited to participate?

5) Why doesn't Trump himself testify? Both Clintons testified in front of congress.

6). Why are Republiscums refusing to read the transcripts from both the Mueller report and the recent hearings?

Even money none of the 'scum will reply.

Roco

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

HavasuGuy

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

HwyRovr

Once trump is jailed - 20 years in federal prison and 20 years in New York state prison - our nation will begin healing. We will see the DOTs go the way of the DONs when that sleazy loser ran away so he could protect his pension. Great things lie ahead for us, not the least being the end of Republiscums.

dougleonard6

looser you are rovr

HwyRovr

One more time, comrade, tell your handler you are in desperate need of more English lessons!

simon1dog

CarL Leubsdorf: "What will come after President Trump?" The answer to Mr. Leubsdorf's question is a little over four years away. Will Mike Pence run after Trump's second term? We'll just have to wait until 2024 and see.

HavasuGuy

Pence? Ha Ha Ha, he has the stench of tRUMP on him...

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