November 13, 2016
Three Quick Lessons About the Election
It is hazardous to draw sweeping conclusions about the meaning of any presidential election. That is especially true of this one, for despite many good qualities, the unsuccessful candidate was acutely defective. For the good of the nation, I hope she receives a presidential pardon in the coming days. Still, there are three sure observations to be drawn from this election.
Firstly, the electoral damage to the Democratic Party leaves their policy platform in significant disarray. At the state level, the GOP controls nearly two-thirds of governorships, and in nearly half of states hold the legislature and governor’s office. In contrast, the Democrat Party now controls just four state trifectas – the legislatures and governor’s mansions. At the national level, things are worse. The presumptive leader of the Democrats, Tim Kaine, was thoroughly shellacked by Mike Pence in his debate, and the DNC remains roiled by scandal regarding electoral shenanigans.
Without emergent leadership, the policies that helped propel Barack Obama to the White House have no champion. Worse still for the Democrats, those policies from the Affordable Care Act to a raft of Executive Orders will not survive the winter. The long-term cost of an unpopular law and executive overreach is that the signature policies of the Obama Administration will be expunged before the leaves return to the trees. Elections matter.
Second, Donald Trump has a considerable challenge in reconciling many of his promises with reality. Precisely zero jobs are coming back to the US because of better trade deals, Mexico ain’t paying for a wall, and we’re not going to deport 11 million people. While I doubt most of his supporters were stupid enough to believe any of those claims, some surely are. They must learn to live with disappointment, and Donald Trump must master explaining the limits of executive power to the others. Future elections matter, and that brings us to the third point.
The American electoral cycle acts as a strong equilibrating force on swings of power. In our republic, it usually takes many years for aggressive policies to be felt, for good or ill, by voters. This legislative lag typically means that midterm elections dampen the extent of policy changes. However, in this matter, Trump has an opportunity perhaps unique in American experience.
Most legislation takes years to design, pass, implement and generate impacts. However, Obama’s reliance on executive orders and bureaucratic rulemaking offers the GOP a huge opportunity. With the stroke of a pen, Trump can end a glut of unpopular actions from confusing overtime pay rules to quasi-judicial college sexual assault tribunals. This means that Trump can deliver visible change within weeks and months in ways that no president since FDR has managed. Combined with a certain repeal of Obamacare, the GOP will enter the 2018 midterm elections boasting visible policy changes.
Of course, uncertainty remains a significant force in these matters. The Democrats will find new voices and the world is an unforgiving and dangerous place, with a long history of derailing domestic agendas. Moreover, the GOP has many other legislative priorities, including Speaker Ryan’s thoughtful economic plan. Still, it seems likely that, with the exception of a $9 trillion debt, the legacy of the Obama Administrations will be mostly erased in the coming months, and in so doing transform the GOP into the party of change. Like it or not, the 2016 election will have meaning for decades to come.
About the Author
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