THE BLOG
03/27/2015 02:11 pm ET Updated May 27, 2015

Fighter or Deal Maker?

Both parties face a choice for 2016. Will they nominate a fighter or a deal maker?

For Republicans, it's likely to come down to a choice between two candidates. For Democrats, it's likely to be a battle over one candidate. Will they nominate Hillary Clinton the fighter or Hillary Clinton the deal maker?

There's no question which kind of politician Sen. Ted Cruz is. He issued a call to arms when he became the first candidate to jump into the race on Monday: "The only way we turn this country around is if we energize and mobilize an army of courageous conservatives.'' Armies are for fighting.

Cruz doesn't just fight with Democrats. He fights with the leadership of his own party. Many of his fellow Republicans resent Cruz for leading them into ruinous confrontations, like the 16-day government shutdown in 2013.

Cruz will likely have to compete with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for the top-gun job in the GOP. Walker is not just a fighter. He's a winner. He won three elections in a row in Wisconsin, a blue state that hasn't voted Republican for president since 1984. When the labor unions tried to recall Walker in 2012, he took them on and won. Cruz, on the other hand, led Republicans to defeat. He would call it a glorious defeat, like the Alamo. Cruz would rather go down fighting than make a deal with Democrats. To tea party Republicans like Cruz, deal making means selling out.

The deal maker in the Republican race is likely to be Jeb Bush. Bush is openly defiant of the tea party. He refuses to give ground to conservatives on immigration reform or education. In December, Bush said a Republican needs to be willing to "lose the primary to win the general election without violating your principles.'' Bush is raising huge amounts of campaign money from Republican business interests -- people who live to make deals.

Let's say Scott Walker wins Iowa and Jeb Bush wins New Hampshire. The battle will be on: Walker the fighter vs. Bush the deal maker.

The Republican Party is a movement party. In a movement, you have to agree on everything -- taxes, abortion, Israel, climate change, same-sex marriage, Obamacare, everything. Disagree and you can be denounced as an unbeliever. The Democratic Party is a coalition party. In a coalition, you only have to agree on one thing: You're for the Democrat. No further questions.

Partisans predominate in primaries. They love fighters. Most voters are sick and tired of all the fighting. They don't believe fighting is a way to solve problems. Deal making is.

President Bill Clinton was a consummate deal maker. "Read the Constitution,'' he said in 2013. "It might as well have been subtitled, 'Let's Make a Deal.''' Clinton made deals on trade, welfare reform, a balanced budget and financial deregulation.

A lot of progressives resent Bill Clinton's deals. They don't want to elect his wife and see a return to deal making. Last week, Clinton urged an audience of progressives to break "out of the very unproductive discussion that we've had for too long where people are just in their ideological bunkers having an argument.''

But progressive Democrats don't have a strong contender who can challenge Hillary Clinton. So they are trying to win the battle for her political soul. Clinton did, after all, run as a fighter in 2008. She said in Ohio, "If you know one thing, when I say I will fight for you, I will. It's what I've always done.'' As she likes to say, she has the scars to prove it. Progressives are counting on her to show the same fight in 2016.

Clinton may not even need a challenger. She's already embroiled in a knockdown drag-out battle with the press. "This woman, she's a survivor,'' a New Hampshire supporter told The New York Times.

The most successful leaders -- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan -- are both fighters and deal makers. The apply different skills to different situations.

FDR the fighter said of his opponents in 1936, "They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred!'' FDR the deal maker got the Lend-Lease program passed in early 1941. It was a way for the U.S. to support the allied war effort without declaring war.

Ronald Reagan could give a fiery speech on Monday denouncing taxes. Then he could sign a bill on Tuesday that raised taxes. On Wednesday, he would give the same speech denouncing taxes. If you asked him how he could raise taxes after giving that speech, he would say it's just politics -- something he had to do to get the budget passed. It was a deal. Reagan believed in what he said more than what he did. And so did conservatives.

We may see a demand for a deal maker in 2016. Bloomberg News has just reported a key finding from focus groups with New Hampshire primary voters: "Democrats suggested that Obama's experience convinced them that the candidate best poised to effect change may be an insider who has the relationships and knowledge to make deals.'' For Democrats, that's Hillary Clinton. For Republicans, that's Jeb Bush. If the 2016 election turns out to be a choice between them, it's likely to be close.