Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina portrayed President Barack Obama as being too far to the left, and suggested that after the election, Mr. Obama will have to move more to the center.
Graham expressed a vision of "bipartisanship" that resembles a way for the Republicans to finally get what they want in extending tax cuts and rolling back health care reform after two years of Democratic control in both chambers of Congress.
"About bipartisanship after the election, I predict there will be a good bit of effort," Graham told "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer. "There will be a bipartisan effort to extend the Bush tax cuts and not let them expire. 2012 and 2014, Democrats in swing states are going to get the message from independent voters to come to the middle. So I think we're going to have some bipartisanship when it comes to replacing the health care bill with a more moderate approach."
Liz Cheney, Republican strategist and chairwoman for Keep America Safe, echoed Graham's vision, but said "bipartisanship" will be up to President Obama.
"It will depend a lot on what President Obama does, frankly. I think that once he doesn't have control any longer of both houses of Congress, if he wants to get things done, I think he's going to have to move more to the center," she told Schieffer.
But Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was skeptical of this view of how to break Washington gridlock, and said that it's the Republicans who are unwilling to move to the center.
"I think the Republicans are too far right for the country," the former Vermont governor said. "Republicans think they're on a mission. The mission is well outside the mainstream."
Dean cited Graham's own efforts to try to work with the Democratic Party, and suggested that there are deeper systemic challenges to compromise:
"Let me thank Senator Graham for his willingness to work together. Look what happened to him when he got home. The far right of his own party pilloried him.
"That's a big problem not just on the right - all the districts are drawn in more and more partisan ways, so you have very partisan big majorities," Dean said. "The fact that we're so polarized in what we've done to each other as parties over the last 30 years, in redistricting, that it's very, very hard to overcome your own constituencies and move to the middle."
Cheney dismissed Dean's redistricting hypothesis, and blamed Mr. Obama.
"I don't think that, you know, Governor Dean's point about this is about polarization because of redistricting is accurate. I believe that in fact what we've seen is a president who has taken much more radical positions than the people voted for in 2008," Cheney said.
Graham agreed that the election will partly be a referendum on President Obama.
"I do believe it's the rejection of an agenda that scares people," the senator said. "The health care bill, the stimulus package, the financial regulation, all the spending, was not what people expected from this president. He turned his agenda over to the most liberal people in the House, and two weeks before the campaign, nobody's running for the health care bill. Most Democrats in swing states are running against Nancy Pelosi and against the Obama takeover of most of society.
"So this is a rejection of an overreach of governing from the left," Graham said.
Will Galston, the former deputy assistant for domestic policy in the Clinton administration who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution studying the partisan divide in Washington, said it is the parties that have become more divided, not the American people.
"The parties are a lot more polarized than they were 30 years ago," Galston told Schieffer. "The American people aren't as polarized as the parties. But the center of the electorate is weaker, and more people have flocked toward the extremes. That does make cooperation across party lines more difficult."
But Galston said he is optimistic that the two parties will eventually work together. He said that after the midterm election, there may be as many as 80 new Republican representatives entering the House, some beholden to Tea Party voters, and there will be an early confrontation, but the confrontation will come to an end at some point.
"As a veteran of the Clinton White House, I can tell you that the confrontation comes to an end when one side or another hits a wall, because the American people expect parties who have a share of governing power to be part of the solution and not part of the problem."
Galston furthered claimed that 35 percent of the American people call themselves moderates, so there is a "potential coalition of the center" who would expect bipartisanship.
Dean, on the other hand, said that he doesn't think the Democrats have to worry about compromising from a position of weakness, because he said his party will keep control of Congress.
"I actually think we're going to hold the House and the Senate. The reason I think so is the president, electorally wise, has done a really good job in the last three weeks convincing people this is a choice, not a referendum.
"Frankly, we have better candidates than the Republicans," Dean said, "not because they're Democrats and the other guys are the Republicans."
Graham and Cheney, however, seem confident in a Republican House victory. Cheney said bipartisanship will help the political situation in Washington, and President Obama will have to compromise in the next two years.
"I also suspect, because he is a very good politician, that he will get the message. He's got to listen to the American people," Cheney said.