So far, Democrats from red states say they see no danger in opposing Bush priorities like restructuring Social Security. But their risk of being branded obstructionists increases as the conflicts between the parties multiply -- and Democrats demand loyalty on all of them. "They are making it extremely difficult ... to be a red state Democrat and part of the Democratic establishment in Washington," insists Brian Nick, the communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The same, of course, is true for Republicans from blue states. If the debate in Washington remains this polarized, the most likely outcome is a continuing decline in senators representing states that usually prefer the other party in presidential elections.
That would further reduce the number of senators with an inherent incentive to construct compromises and soothe partisan tensions. And that would fuel more polarization that increases the pressure on the remaining centrists. As the middle erodes, the politics of perpetual warfare is feeding on itself.
Ronald Brownstein's column appears every Monday. See current and past columns on The Times' website at www.latimes.com/brownstein.