When Barack Obama was elected president, the Republican Party pursued a strategy of relentless obstruction, opposing most things the new president proposed, regardless of merit. We'll soon see if Democrats return the favor once Donald Trump assumes the office — but if Bernie Sanders has anything to say about it, they won't. In a CNN town hall meeting Monday, Sen. Sanders said he hopes Democrats don't obstruct Trump the way Republicans did Obama once the 45th president is sworn in.
"The responsibility of the opposition party is to make constructive criticism where we disagree and come up with alternative ideas as to how we can improve the lives of the American people," Sanders told CNN's Chris Cuomo. When Cuomo asked if that would take the same shape as the GOP's opposition to Obama, Sanders replied, "I hope not."
"Where Trump has ideas that make sense, that we can work with him, I think we should," the Vermont senator said.
Sanders offered no examples of ideas Trump has proposed that make sense. However, one can imagine the two teaming up to pass some manner of infrastructure spending, as that's a rare issue of policy on which Trump, a far right European-style populist, and Sanders, a big government democratic socialist, might agree.
Thankfully, Sanders made it clear that there are some issues on which he'll never agree or work with Trump.
"He ran a campaign whose cornerstone was bigotry," Sanders said. "It was based on sexism, racism, on xenophobia. And on that issue, I personally will not compromise. He ran a campaign that denied the reality of climate change at a time when virtually all of the scientists who have studied this issue tell us that we face a planetary crisis, and we've gotta transform our energy away from fossil fuel to energy sustainability and efficiency. We can't compromise on that issue."
The question of when Democrats should cooperate with Trump, if at all, is a tricky one. On the one hand, it's quite possible that on a few isolated areas of policy, Trump will be aligned with the left. It would be silly for Congressional Democrats to oppose a massive infrastructure project, or paid maternity leave, solely because Trump proposed it.
But supporting Trump's more liberal policy proposals comes with its own hazards. Democrats can't afford to hand over their most popular policy proposals to the Republican Party; doing so could both consolidate Trump's support — thus enabling him to pass far more odious policies — and potentially deprive Democrats of their strongest electoral arguments come election time.
It's too soon to say how Democrats will approach the impending Trump presidency. But Sanders isn't a proponent of all-out obstruction.
"What the GOP did, literally on the day that President Obama was inaugurated, is sit down and say, 'Okay, our strategy is going to be that we will obstruct, obstruct obstruct. We will do everything that we can to ensure that he accomplishes as little as possible, and then we'll go to the American people and say, 'See, this guy didn't accomplish anything. Vote for us,''" Sanders said at Monday's town hall. "No, I don't think that's what we do."