Contrary to what you hear on TV, there are a few things that Washington’s big three can do together in the next two years. At a minimum, President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to once again become Speaker of the House, will have to cooperate on budgets to keep the government running. The newly empowered House Democrats might also find Republicans are willing to work with them on infrastructure, criminal justice reform and maybe even health care.
And if this was the America of 1946, 1986 or 1994, I might be optimistic that an incumbent president who justlost a chamber of Congress in a midterm would be able to work with the other party to get things done. That’s whatHarry Truman, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did in those years.
Truman lost the House, Reagan lost the Senate, and Clinton lost both. But all three, though smarting from their defeats, decided that the way forward politically — and the best thing for the country — was to reach out to the opposition and give a little to get a little. In other words, compromise. Gerald Ford, president from 1974 to 1977, said it best: “Compromise is the oil that makes governments go.”
Finding common ground has proven successful
Even then, it was tough. Truman and Reagan found common ground with the other party on foreign affairs — Truman’s hugely expensive Marshall Plan and Reagan’s thawing of ties with the Soviet Union, for example — but were generally thwarted domestically. But Clinton is a model that Trump may want to study.
The Red Wave of ’94 turned Georgia firebrand Newt Gingrich into Speaker of the House and humbled Clinton. It led to a moderation of his views and an outreach to Gingrich. The two found common ground on issues like deficit reduction (which led to budget surpluses between 1998 and 2001) and a massive overhaul of the country’s welfare system.
Clinton’s sudden humility — and a booming economy — led to his solid reelection in 1996. One wonders what else might have been accomplished if House Republicans hadn’t dropped everything they were doing to impeach Clinton for lying about an affair.The advice for Trump here — and I know I’m probably wasting my time — is for him to also learn from his setbacks and become more humble. Republicans think this wasn’t a wave election? Even as votes were still being counted Thursday, the Cook Political Report had Democrats leading Republicans by 7.2 percentage points in the national House popular vote, and its analysts said that could go higher. That would make this wave bigger than the Republican waves of 1994 (+7.1%) and 2010 (+6.8%).
If Trump wasn’t so steeped in self-delusion, this could be a teachable moment for him. But based on everything he has said and tweeted since Election Day, there’s no evidence so far that he has learned a thing. That’s too bad for him — and for the country.
Of course, it’s fair to point out that Democrats aren’t exactly in the mood to compromise, either. Their strategy is just like Mitch McConnell’s. Remember back in 2010? The Kentucky Republican — soon to be the Senate Majority Leader — said then that his No. 1 goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Well, guess what? The shoe’s now on the other foot. Democrats want Trump to be a one-term guy too, and will do whatever they can to undermine him.
McConnell and other Republicans are already whining about obstruction. But coming from the party that sat on Obama’s judicial nominees and killed a Supreme Court nomination by burying it for nearly a year, their hypocrisy is obvious in all its full-blown glory.
Both parties will try to undermine each other
This Democratic undermining will begin on day one with a series of investigations into Trump that will be conducted with the same zeal that Republicans showed when they went after Democrats for problems and missteps like the attack on Americans in Benghazi and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.Trump supported all that back then, of course. He surely must be nervous that Democrats may get their paws on his tax returns and prop up special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Never one to turn the other cheek, the president has promised to retaliate by having the Senate launch investigations into the Democrats. But Trump forgot to tell McConnell, who indicated last week he has better things to do, like confirm more conservative judges.
As he gears up for re-election, I wonder if Trump knows that of the other four popular vote losers who nevertheless won the presidency, only one was re-elected. Trump hasn’t expanded his base, hasn’t modified his behavior, hasn’t learned to be a president for all Americans. Over the next 24 months he can, perhaps, change a few minds by doing what Truman, Reagan and Clinton did — learning from an electoral thrashing and making adjustments. But Trump’s Trump. If past is prologue, he’ll never change.