’Tis the season for looking at various post-election scenarios now that we are just two months from the end of this long and strange presidential cycle. At Politico, Edward-Isaac Dovere focuses on a real problem that could manifest itself in 2017 if Hillary Clinton is elected president while Paul Ryan hangs on to his gavel as House speaker: As potential 2020 rivals, they may not be able to get a whole lot done. I’d add to his analysis one more relevant insight: Clinton and Ryan would not be able to get a whole lot done even if both of them took vows not to be at the top of the ballot four years hence. Bipartisanship is not in the cards for the immediate future.
Why? Because nothing has happened in this presidential cycle to reduce the ideological differences of opinion and partisan pressures that have made bipartisanship all but impossible for the last eight years.
Think about it. If Trump loses, Republicans are not going to blame his partisanship for their defeat. A remarkable number of them believe the main problem with the mogul is his predilection for Democratic ideas: protecting entitlements, making infrastructure investments, demonizing trade, running roughshod over Congress with strong executive powers, etc. To the extent there remains a Trump faction in the GOP, the obvious point of unity is total opposition to another President Clinton. And the obvious starting point for a GOP revival is a 2010-style midterm butt-kicking of Democrats based on a backlash to Clinton’s failure to get a whole lot done.
Meanwhile, the main Democratic demands of HRC involve a combination of executive actions in which Congress is irrelevant, and advocacy of progressive policy goals — a much higher minimum wage, expanded Social Security benefits, climate-change action, and regulation of firearms and campaign contributions — that all Republicans will oppose to their last breaths.
Washington is likely to become more, not less, polarized than before if it is under divided-partisan management. Yet as Dovere reports, there’s anachronistic talk about getting action on a decidedly archaic 2011-style agenda:
“Washington veterans often talk a new president’s honeymoon period, expecting the losing side to act defeated for a while. This year is no different, as Democrats and Republicans are already talking about criminal justice reform, infrastructure spending tied to tax reform, with maybe a dash of entitlement reform to sweeten the deal. They talk about immigration reform, too, especially after the last 15 months of Donald Trump.”
A deal that offered increased domestic discretionary spending in exchange for corporate and high-end tax cuts and “entitlement reform” was the essence of the Grand Bargain that eluded Obama and congressional Democrats for years. Immigration reform was stalled by House Republican opposition long before Trump came along, and Senate GOP supporters of reform — most famously Marco Rubio — began backtracking from the moment the “Gang of Eight” legislation passed the upper chamber. Yes, perhaps Republicans would like to see reform enacted so that their base’s wild opposition to it will stop damaging the party’s image among Latino voters. But they are not about to lift a finger to make it happen.
You’d like to think criminal-justice reform is a priority drawing equal support from conservatives and liberals, and thus will have a better chance of being enacted once Trump’s law-and-order campaign has ended. But again, a backlash was developing among conservatives even before Trump came along, with underlying partisan divisions recently emerging as to whether “criminal-justice reform” should mean decriminalizing bad corporate behavior.
Maybe 2020 considerations will get the blame for partisan gridlock in 2017 just as 2016 considerations stymied Washington in 2015. But it’s likely we will experience the same old, same old dynamics, with “achievement” in our nation’s capitol being defined as avoiding any protracted government shutdown. To the extent that a change in what President Obama called “the fever” gripping Republicans is needed to move things beyond obstruction, it is actually bad news for Democrats that Republicans nominated Trump. In defeat, the albatross he represented will be the ultimate excuse among Republicans for not changing a thing other than throwing him under the nearest bus.