The polls out post-Democratic convention show a bounce for Hillary Clinton, putting her back into the lead nationally, but few are expecting 2016 to be a blowout election either way anymore. And despite Donald Trump’s almost hourly verbal gaffes, he still has a real path to the White House.
But what happens after when she or he wins? Will either begin their presidency with any semblance of a mandate to govern a politically-fractured country? Will their administration enjoy the typical honeymoon period or even get a major policy priority passed through in the first 100 days?
Both candidates are saddled with sky-high negatives and are essentially counting on the country to dislike their opponent more. But when that opponent is removed from the equation, and Americans are focused solely on them as president, can they turn it around?
Consider if Clinton wins. Her campaign has centered much of their messaging on rejecting Trump, and for obvious reasons. It’s made uniting the party after Bernie Sanders’ strong run much easier, but a lot of Sanders supporters feel like she skipped a step in the later stages of the primaries where Clinton personally could have really reached out to them. Once in office, Clinton may face a considerable amount of pressure from the left of the party that never really got around to trusting her completely.
In terms of the broader electorate, independents and moderate Republicans may take up Clinton’s message to reject Trump, but what does that empower her to do once in office? It’s not like these presidential campaigns are ever heavily focused on policy proposals, but it’s unclear what major issues Clinton will head into the White House with significant support from the public. Presidents typically get one major piece of their agenda enacted in the first 100 days. What would Clinton’s be? The big lift of immigration reform? Paid family and medical leave? New banking regulations? A clean energy plan? An infrastructure spending package?
Actually, if the Senate Republicans’ blockade on Merrick Garland’s nomination continues through the lame duck session, Clinton’s little political capital from the election may have to be first spent on the Supreme Court. That could be the real underhanded strategy for Chuck Grassley’s Garland obstruction – force Clinton to go through a messy, partisan confirmation battle right off the bat on an issue that should have been resolved during President Obama’s term.
And then there’s the matter of public support and its impact on Republican legislators. Republican delegates at the convention and attendees at Trump’s events are chanting “lock her up!” Trump is now suggesting the election will be rigged and should be considered illegitimate. There’s a real possibility he’ll try to undermine a Clinton victory in any way possible, ramping up the right’s anger for even longer. How will people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell deal with that when any deal they make with the administration brings on howls from their base that they’re negotiating with a criminal? Will they give in like they have with Trump this year (and the Tea Party in years’ past), or finally realize this anger and obstruction is what brought about Trump in the first place?
And what if Trump won? He too would face insurmountable problems with Congress. Democrats would never work with him and many Republican legislators can’t even bring themselves to endorse him this year. Yesterday Trump said he wasn’t even ready to endorse Speaker Ryan in his primary – this isn’t someone who is going to get along well with Congress. Would a Republican-controlled House even bring up his more extreme plans of building a massive border wall or banning most Muslim immigration into the country?
With Congress likely to shut him down, Trump may turn to more authoritarian measures and test the limits of executive power. That will lead to endless court challenges that would (hopefully) bog down whatever he plans to do.
If Trump even got to that point, it likely would mean Clinton either committed some massive error before the election or more damaging emails caused her candidacy to collapse. So again, you’d have a president with little public support, with a strong chunk of the population outright hostile to him.
For Americans tired of the nastiness and stupidity of the 2016 election, what comes after may not get much better. While a Trump presidency could look like a freakish nightmare, a Clinton one could simply turn into a worsening of the current political gridlock and partisanship.
The best option forward may be for Trump to take such a beating on Election Day, along with causing massive fallout for his fellow Republican candidates, that it finally convinces the GOP and Congress to change their approach. No more complete obstructionism, no more refusal to compromise with Democrats, no more giving in to the craziest wing of the party. Every now and then, Washington actually needs to accomplish something.
by Pat Rynard