12/6/16

This is the ninth and final installment in a long series of separate postings discussing many aspects of the 2016 elections.

As I commented in the 6th installment of this series, “Trump,” while the President-elect and the Republicans have majorities allowing them to rule, the majorities enjoyed by Obama in his first two years were significantly larger in every respect and, yet, he failed miserably. Within 10 months of being inaugurated, Obama/Democrats lost two important and long standing Democratic governorship elections in Virginia and New Jersey! And 3 months later they lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority in the Senate by losing Senate seat elections that became available following the death of the most progressive of politicians in the most progressive of states: Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. Who could have believed that? All because Obama in his natural arrogance interpreted his majority as carte-blanch. The problem was that he lied to the American people during the elections. Using the end-justifies-the-means progressive methodology, he told the people what they wanted to hear in order to get elected and, once elected, he moved far to the left of what he promised. I believe Obama will be nothing more than a footnote in American history; a president who squandered a huge opportunity due to a combination of wrong vision, total ineffectiveness in governing and an unprecedented level of arrogance.

Trump and the Republicans face the challenge of understanding the mandate they were given and interpreting it just right. Do too much and they will lose their majority very quickly. Do too little, same result. While their majority is smaller, the advantage they have is that they campaigned on what they believed and if they carry out their agenda no one would be able to say that they are surprised.

Having said that, Trump and Republicans are facing three major challenges on their way to enacting their agenda:

1. The Media

Throughout the campaign the media has shown extreme level of hostility toward Trump. That has gone far beyond the normal bias against any Republican nominee and has crossed into active engagement with a view to prevent him from winning. Any forlorn hope that the media will reexamine their attitude following the election’s result has been dashed by the last few weeks. The media is continuing its war against Trump with viciousness and ferocity never before seen. It is, therefore, to be expected that this effort by the media to cause Trump to fail will continue unabated for the duration of his presidency. Do not expect any let down. This is going to be a huge challenge for the Administration’s agenda and Republican legislation efforts as unfortunately, in spite of the very low level of trust in the media, over time this continuing poisonous, concentrated, non-stop attack will bear fruits unless Trump and the Republican Party develops a counter strategy.

I have few suggestions as to what such strategy should include (see also an excellent article by Ari Fleischer on the media, “Trump vs. the White House Press Corps”):

  • Republicans have got to learn to actually respond to media bias in real time. For years they have adopted the strategy that it is not conducive or even proper to fight the media. Trump showed that this strategy is not the right one. Republicans MUST stop showing media deference. Attack whenever you are being treated unfairly, which is nearly 100% of the time. Do not take it lying down and with grace. Expose the bias whenever it is on display.
  • Show significant preference in terms of access and availability to the few media outlets that are generally fair to you: Fox News, WSJ, some local newspapers, talk-show radio and web news sites. The Obama administration had an open warfare on Fox News and clearly starved them of appearances by the President and by many other senior officials. Do the same now to ALL mainstream media. Starve them from access and scoops. Not total starvation but significant preference to fair outlets.
  • As Fleischer says in his article, change the seating arrangements and access to the White House daily briefing room to reflect media outlets that are friendly to Republicans. Not 100%, but a major shift.
  • Develop a unit, possibly at the RNC or one of the major Republican Super PAC who will track and exhibit media bias. Such entities already exist here and there but none that are run professionally and enjoy wide-spread credibility. This new unit should be dedicated to analyzing, measuring and exposing media bias and be run on academic and fair principles to the extent possible (given that it is hard to find objective people even amongst academics, but still possible). This unit needs to publish regular reports exposing bias in the media.

2. Filibuster Rule

The filibuster rule existed in the US Senate from the very beginning of the Republic. In simple terms, that rule requires that at least 60 Senators out of 100 must vote to allow any Act of the Senate to proceed to a final vote; i.e. you can be against the subject matter and vote against it when it comes to the final vote but, at the very least, you had to approve it to go on to a final vote in the first place. The idea was that in extreme cases if 41 Senators feel deeply that any Senate resolution is so bad that they simply cannot abide by it, they can stop it from coming to a final vote. This rule maintained the spirit of the Constitution, which went to great length to demand consensus in governing and to NOT allow simple majority rule (think of the intricate checks and balances system, the whole concept of federalism, the Senate structure itself [two Senators per state irrespective of size] and yes, the famous Electoral College system).

Because it is not part of the Constitution, in simple terms, it can easily be changed or abolished by whoever holds the majority in the Senate. However, it survived for hundreds of years based more or less only on the respect of the Senators of all generations for tradition, until…Barack Obama came to power. As I said many times, Obama demolished tradition and decorum throughout his presidency but probably nothing that he did was more damaging than getting his lackey–the really deplorable, disgusting and good riddance to him–Harry Reid as majority leader in the Senate to partially eliminate the filibuster rule to suit what Obama wanted.

The issue facing Republicans now is what should they do? Should they reinstitute the rule back to its original basis? Should they leave the adjusted rule as designed by Reid/Obama to suit themselves or should they eliminate it all together?

To understand the moral bankruptcy of the Obama/Reid coalition it is important to note that while, on the face of it, the change instituted by the Reid/Obama duo was supposedly limited in scope, leaving a big part of the filibuster in place–that is a ruse. They actually changed it 100% to the extent that they could or needed to. They ostensibly left it on for any Acts and laws with the exception of approving nominees by the Obama administration. But the truth is that even if they did change it all the way to include Acts and laws that would not have helped them as these need approval of the House, and Republicans controlled the House. So why change it if it does not give you any advantage?

They also, ostensibly, left it on for Supreme Court nominations showing great “magnanimity” and “compromise,” but the truth is that when they enacted the change there were no Supreme Court nominees on the agenda. By the time that a Supreme Court nominee came about, Republicans already controlled the Senate. And if there was any doubt of the Democrats’ real intent here, then both the disgusting Reid and Senator Kaine, as the Democratic nominee for VP, gave pre-election interviews, at a time when they were confident that Democrats would take back control of the Senate, making it clear that the filibuster rule would be changed to include Supreme Court nominees, unless…unless Republicans do not use the filibuster…how generous of them.

So what should Republicans do? The genie is out of the bottle. There is no way to reestablish the sanctity of tradition. Once Obama broke it, it remains broken forever. It is really now only a question of tactics. Like the Democrats did, Republicans should eliminate the filibuster rule only for these things that it will be useful for them to do so. As it happens, in the case of Republicans this means total elimination as they do control the House. They do have a Supreme Court nominee on the agenda, so they should eliminate the rule outright, right now. Do not wait to see if Democrats use it against them or not. Eliminate it on day one of the new Senate. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Some will say that this is a risky strategy because the roles will change some time in the future and Democrats will regain control of the Senate, and if they do so while they have control of the White House and the House they can run roughshod over Republicans. But the truth is this:

    • Republicans are very likely to keep control of the Senate for at least the next four years. Barring a major meltdown of the Trump administration, the voting map for 2018 looks very favorable for Republicans with 24 Democratic Senators up for re-elections out of 34.
    • Democrats are unlikely to regain control of the House, barring real disasters, for many, many years to come. Control of the House is influenced very much by the local state by state voting districts. At the moment, those districts provide a built-in majority for Republicans in the House courtesy of the last redistricting exercise that was undertaken following the 2010 census. The next such exercise will take place in 2020 to effect the 2022 House elections. So, for Democrats to gain control of the House they need to first win back many state level legislatures–two thirds of which are now controlled by Republicans–in time for the 2020 redistricting process. And they need to do it in such numbers that could change the local voting districts in sufficient number across the 50 states so as to make it possible for them to regain control of the House. It is a long and arduous process and it is really not likely to happen quickly. That is, unless the Trump administration screws up royally.
    • Even if all the above does happen and Democrats take back all branches of government, they will change the filibuster rule, anyway. They did it when it suited them a few years ago, they threatened to expand it when it suited them just now, and there is simply no way in the world that they will not eliminate it completely if and when they get enough control so as to make it beneficial for them to do so.

Therefore, Republicans must grasp the nettle here and now, however much they hate it. They need to believe in their own legislation agenda and they need to make sure that they get this agenda through and be judged on its merits. If the merits are good, Republicans will keep the majority for years to come. If Republicans abuse the majority and the opportunity they were given by the people they will deserve to lose the majority and face the consequences.

Under no circumstances should Republicans allow the Democrats to use the filibuster rule to curtail and limit their governing agenda, as the voting public will NOT forgive them. They were given a chance to show what they can do and to GOVERN. DO IT. Do not hide behind the rule which Democrats busted when it suited them.

I admit that I have my doubts if Majority Leader McConnell can bring himself to act so aggressively and discard tradition so blatantly. He will try to cajole Democrats to get them on board but he may just find it too difficult a task. I fear that Democrats are moving too much to the left and that they will not allow much of the Republican agenda to go through. So, grasp the nettle he MUST!!!

3. The Art of the Deal

Having just finished stating that Republicans need to drive their agenda through at all costs, I am here to say what may sound like the exact opposite but is not. It is very important–almost imperative–that Republicans get some Democrats’ buy-in for their agenda.

Why? Because this republic was built, as I mentioned more than once, on the spirit of consensus; the idea was, and is, that in order to ensure the long term success of your ideas and legislative agenda you must get more than just partisan support. One of the reasons the Obama legacy is on the verge of total collapse and, indeed, elimination (if Republicans do their job as they should) is because he eschewed the need to get bi-partisan support.

How? How can Republicans get Democrat support? First, the fact that they will eliminate the filibuster, in a perverse way, will help. If Democrats think they can beat your agenda by sticking together and filibustering it, it is unlikely that you will find the few that will be willing to step out of the party line. But if the die is cast, and if Democrats recognize that they cannot stop your agenda from being passed into law, there will be quite few of them who will be prepared to step forward and, in return for some concessions, support an agenda that is not theirs. They will rightly observe that the concessions that they have obtained in return for their support is a better-than-nothing situation. The fact that at least 10 Democratic Senators facing re-election in 2018, as well as many House members, are from states won by Trump in this elections would be another incentive for them to show that they are actually effective and are achieving things as opposed to the party-of-no and one which is ineffective at saying no anyway.

Which brings us to the art of the deal.

In order to be able to compromise and give some willing Democrats the ability to join in and support legislation that will enact the Republican agenda, Republicans must start with an extreme position. I am hoping against hope that this is what we are seeing from Trump in many respects. I am hoping that the man who coined the phrase “the art of the deal,” and is clearly very good at it in his business dealings, is really willing to stake out extreme solutions to start with and then compromise just enough so as to achieve the dual goal of getting a really good conservative agenda through but getting some Democrats to buy in so as to achieve the mantle of bi-partisanship.

If Republicans master the handling of the media as per my suggestion above and drive through their agenda without fear–but with compromise as outlined above–this presidency could end up being the most consequential and positive presidency since Ronald Reagan, and may even exceed that. We, the USA, sorely need this as a kick-start for another American century!

I guess even I am entitled to a bout of optimism after the darkness of the last 8 years.