As the Trumptanic splits in two and sinks, the only question before us is how much of the Republican Party it drags to the bottom. It is extremely possible the Democrats could take control the United States Senate. While I doubt the Republicans will lose their House majority, I’m quite sure that majority will shrink. Precisely because Paul Ryan has played Hamlet just a bit too much with his political relationship with the party’s nominee, I figure his Speakership might well be in doubt. The institutional structure of the Republican Party will be in dire need of a major overhaul. Hazarding a guess, while the post-election season might well give us a respite from the worst excesses of the campaign, I am quite confident a new President Clinton’s (first?) term will be every bit as contentious as has been both of President Obama’s.
It is still kind of shocking to me there are so many young people eligible to vote whose memories of the events of September 11, 2001 are hazy at best. The brief time between President George W. Bush’s inauguration on January 20th and that horrible day is, I think, largely forgotten by most. I think because our younger daughter was born that summer, my memories from that time are pretty clear. One of my clearest memories is thinking, sometime in July as the corn was tall behind our house in LaMoille, President Bush was heading for the history books as a single-term President. Elected with a bare majority of Electoral College votes and fewer popular votes than his opponent, from his first day in office Bush seemed to be taking advice on his governing style from his primary political adviser, Karl Rove. Rove’s “genius” was creating a campaign that aimed less at stitching together a voting coalition large enough from which to govern than simply winning an election. Receiving 50%-plus-one of the vote was enough for a win; in the end, that’s what Rove desired.
That bare majority however – reflected most of all in the United States Senate, in which the Republicans had a one-seat majority – did not stop Rove from announcing to the world his advice to the new President: govern as if you won a landslide and governing mandate. While perhaps not the best advice, it certainly created a framework within which observers could understand some of the more egregiously stupid things the Bush Administration did. Early on, Vice President Cheney held a closed door meeting with leaders from energy companies. When reporters demanded to know who attended the meeting and what was discussed, Cheney essentially told the reporters to pound sand. Declaring Executive Privilege, a hazy enough legal doctrine at the best of times, the Bush Administration insisted it had to operate in secret in order to get the best possible advice. It was unprecedented; it was unAmerican; and yet we came to know that “arrogance” would be a part of the Bush Administration (along with a kind of heavy-handed manipulation both of the press and the Executive Branch bureaucracy, something for which Cheney was well-known).
That summer occurred two seminal events that, it seems to me, sounded the real death knell for a second Bush term. First was what became known as “The Hainan Island incident” . An American spy plane and a Chinese J-8 fighter collided mid-air, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the Aries to make an emergency landing on the Chinese Island Province of Hainan. The crew of 24 was released after 10 days, being under intense interrogation much of the time, when US Ambassador Joseph Prueher delivered a letter to the Chinese apologizing both for the death of their pilot as well as the violation of Chinese airspace. While the Bush Administration insisted it was an “apology” apology, part of the Bush campaign had included tough talk on China. While perhaps not “humiliating”, and certainly necessary both to bring home our service members in Chinese custody and prevent this incident from spiraling out of control, the end-game was interpreted by many as a sign of weakness.
In May of that year, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. Prior to that the Republicans had a one-seat majority; with VP Cheney providing any tie-breaking vote toward the Republicans, they had control of the upper house. After over a month of tense negotiations between Jeffords, then working on a bill regarding special education and insisting it have adequate funding in order to be effective, was not only treated poorly by his more conservative Senate colleagues; for all intents and purposes the White House treated Jeffords more as a back-bencher than a three-term Chair of the Health, Education, Welfare, and Pensions Committee. Again, Bush Administration arrogance resulted in an unneeded loss of power, with political ramifications that, again had 9/11 not occurred, would have neutered much of Pres. Bush’s legislative agenda.
That history is important to remember. My hunch is that next month’s Presidential election is going to be a sizable win for Hillary Clinton. The Democrats will most likely win back control of the Senate. The Republican leadership will be in such turmoil they will be unable to work effectively as a legislating Party. Should the Democrats come to believe that such a result flowed from the superiority of their candidate and that candidate’s legislative agenda, I believe they will be in for a rude awakening.
For all her strengths, Hillary Clinton has always been a poor campaigner. Had she faced another, real, candidate – I’m thinking right now of Ohio Gov. John Kasich – not only is it possible Secretary Clinton might have lost the Presidential race; it is possible such an event might well have prevented a Democratic win in the Senate. Certainly the turmoil we’re seeing in the Party’s inner workings would be absent. Certainly we wouldn’t be listening to people defending sexual assault on national news programs under the umbrella of Presidential campaign coverage.
My fear is that a Hillary Clinton Administration, seeing an overwhelming victory and a new Democratic US Senate, might well repeat the Bush Administration’s mistake: they may well try to govern as if they had a governing mandate. I have no desire for Mrs. Clinton to end up doing the same stupid things George W. Bush did prior to 9/11 (not to mention the extremely stupid thing he did after: invading Iraq). Power, however, is a narcotic. Narcotics reduce the ability to think clearly, resulting in impulsive actions that usually turn out very badly. It would be far better if, on Nov. 9, a President-elect Hillary Clinton acknowledged her debt to her opponent in this race for providing the margin of victory, promising to govern with respect to a plurality of Americans who will continue to be wary of her.