The scope of the Republican midterm victory went well beyond what can be explained simply by variations in turnout. We Democrats should take this as an important reason to think seriously about how to present our views better, and, more controversially, about what ways we have to alter some of our approaches.

But while I do not seek to diminish the size of the Republicans’ victory, nor to denigrate their right to pursue the public policies on which they campaigned, there are some arguments being advanced by Republicans that overreach.

n The first is the Republicans’ argument that the president’s nomination of a seasoned prosecutor to be the attorney general should not be voted on in the lame-duck session. This is one of the most blatant examples of hypocritical inconsistency I have ever encountered.

Many Republicans now in Congress – including the leaders in the House and Senate – were serving in 1998 when House Republicans impeached President Clinton during the lame-duck session. Not only did they vote to unseat an elected president in the post-election period, of the two articles of impeachment that were adopted, one would have failed if members who had been elected that November had been voting.

The article passed by nine votes. Five Republicans who had voted for impeachment had been replaced by the Democrats who would have opposed it, meaning that if the vote had been conducted in January, one of the two articles would have failed.

The assertion that it is somehow inappropriate for a lame-duck session to confirm an attorney general but entirely reasonable in that same situation to take the most drastic action the House can take is obvious partisan nonsense.

n The second contention is that the president and the Democratic minority should not resist Republican efforts because having won decisively in both the House and the Senate, the Republicans are entitled to have their program adopted – assuming, that is, that they resolve their own intraparty differences enough to formulate a coherent one.

They have the majorities and are fully entitled to go forward, but the notion that the Democrats should do less than use their own constitutional powers, in deference to the Republican victory, is only slightly less hypocritically inconsistent.

In 2009, the Democrats won the presidency, the House and the Senate by a larger margin than the one the Republicans won 12 days ago. The response of the Republican minority in both the House and the Senate was exactly the opposite of what they are now proclaiming to be the obligation of the Democrats: There was not the slightest sign in either the House or the Senate that the fact that the president had won with a popular vote majority and that the Democrats had very large majorities in both branches meant the Republicans were in some way obligated to cooperate.

Sen. Mitch McConnell announced shortly after the election that his main goal was to defeat President Obama for re-election. In the Senate, when Chris Dodd tried to work with the Republicans to adopt a financial reform bill, he was told by the Republicans with whom he was negotiating that they had been ordered to stop this cooperation by the Republican leadership.

Republican complaints that the financial reform bill was adopted in a partisan way are true, but it was a partisanship that was forced on disappointed Democrats who had hoped to work more cooperatively with our Republican colleagues.

The contrast in the response of the two parties to presidential requests for cooperation with economic difficulties is also clear.

In 2008, when George W. Bush told Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid that the economy needed some form of stimulus, they not only cooperated but also worked with him to shape one that met his own ideological preference for tax cuts, rather than spending, although they did shape it in a way that made it more progressive. When President Obama made the same request in 2009, he encountered shrill Republican opposition.

n The third point is the most significant. Republicans have already announced that if the president uses his constitutional power to take certain executive actions regarding immigration, they will stop cooperating with him in other areas.

In an extraordinarily self-denigrating statement, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said that for the president to act on immigration would have the effect on his Republican colleagues of someone “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” In other words, we are told that Republican members of Congress will act like an enraged dumb animal, reacting irrationally and seeking to destroy whatever is in front of them.

Less metaphorically, but more explicitly, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made the same point. If the president does something with his executive power that we Republicans do not like in the immigration area, McCarthy essentially said, we will not cooperate with him in other public policy areas where they might be agreement.

The notion that if the other side does something with which you strongly disagree, you should withhold cooperation on other matters where you agree on appropriate public policy is totally inconsistent with how legislatures can and should function.

When Ronald Reagan defied a congressional statute to provide aid to the Contras in 1986, Democrats continued to work with Republicans on other issues – for example, immigration, when at Reagan’s urging we adopted a legalization program for noncitizens in 1987. Similarly, even when the Republicans were impeaching Bill Clinton in the lame-duck session, cooperation went forward on other issues.

This Republican argument that a presidential decision to act on immigration will prevent any cooperation on taxes, trade or any other issue is in fact a pre-emptive strike. It makes little sense as a description of how Congress and the president should interact, or, as I noted, as a description of history. What it does do is to provide an anticipatory excuse before the fact if Republican intraparty differences prove so deep that they are unable to come together on policy.

Republicans sharply differ among themselves on how to approach the Affordable Care Act; on how seriously to undo financial reforms; on how to restructure housing finance; on foreign policy; and on other issues. So they are laying the groundwork for blaming the president’s action on immigration for their inability to agree on appropriate policies in these areas.

They have done a very good job of blaming the president for Ebola; murderous Islamic fanatics; and the things that we had to do to recover from an economic crisis that was largely caused by their deregulatory policies. They should not be allowed to get away with inventing a new excuse if they prove unable to govern coherently in the face of their own irreconcilable divisions.

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.

Twitter: @BarneyFrank

— Special to the Telegram