Tom Davis and Martin Frost 

Clinton vs. Trump, cable news and the nation's partisan divide

We may not see the likes of Tom Davis and Martin Frost in the chambers of Congress any time soon. The two former members of the U.S. House of Representatives—Davis represented northern Virginia for 14 years and Frost represented the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 26 years—came from opposite sides of the aisle: Davis is a staunch Republican and Frost is a died-in-the-wool Democrat. Yet, their years on Capitol Hill were distinguished by compromise and reasoned logic. More recently, they co-authored The Partisan Divide: Congress in Crisis (Fast Pencil Premiere, November 2014), a best-seller examining political differences not often bridged. On Friday, Oct. 29, the pair will be keynote speakers at the annual Frank Church Conference on Public Affairs, dubbed "Politics and Prose."

Do you have a sense of whether more Americans are voting along party lines rather than for individual candidates?

Davis: There's a pattern where we've seen more straight party-line voting.

Frost: I think this election may be different and more unpredictable.

Davis: Each presidential candidate is so unpopular but I still think, by and large, you'll see mostly straight-ticket voting.

Can you explain why once candidates are elected, particularly to Congress, they remain behind the wall of their political parties? Is that out of fear of a primary challenge?

Frost: Extreme elements of your own party will challenge you in a primary and those extreme candidates are usually fueled by money from outside interests or unreported dark sources. That makes things pretty difficult for incumbents. Most incumbents win their primaries but they do live in mortal fear of losing them.

Davis: Martin and I have a saying: Liberal and conservative voters have passions. Moderate voters have lives, and moderates don't tend to vote in primaries.

Is that why, when it comes time to govern, policy suffers—because so many of those incumbents are afraid to compromise with a member of the other party?

Frost: They don't even want to be seen in public with the other party. But you really need to have compromise to get anything done.

Davis: eighty percent of the time we've had divided government in our nation. The way district lines are drawn for the U.S. House of Representatives tend to favor Republicans. The Senate's Electoral College divide gives Democrats a significant, but not insurmountable, advantage.

Do you believe cable news contributes to the nation's partisan divide?

Tom: Between talk radio, the internet and cable news, you have different sets of Americans dealing with different sets of facts. Cable news is an offender, but not the only offender.

Frost: But it's a recent phenomenon. Some very smart people at Fox decided to build a cable news channel to cater to conservative folks. MSNBC did the same for liberals. They've both made a lot of money. Poor old CNN suffers when they go down the middle.

I'm assuming you've decided whether you'll be voting for Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump, but I'm curious about how enthused you are about your choice.

Frost: I have no problem saying I'm for Hillary.

Davis: I'm a Republican. I was a John Kasich supporter. We don't always like the choices we get, but, ultimately, it's about the direction of the country. That's about all I'll say on that.

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