There are no Mandates in American Politics
This is why it’s so absurd that Trump and the GOP act as if they have one. Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million-and only won the EC because of Comey. In the Senate, the GOP lost the popular vote despite winning 52 seats-the joys of redistricting and gerrymandering.
The GOP both as a party and it’s favored policies are very unpopular. The GOP then may have all the power in Washington right now-in theory-but that’s thanks to good luck, Comey, and a Beltway media that was obsessed with an email server during the entire campaign.
And again, there are no mandates in politics. George W. Bush made this mistake in 2005. He declared “I have some political capital and I’m going to spend it.’
He spent this imaginary capital by going around the country preaching the benefits of privatizing Social Security. When he got back to Washington, private SS accounts were even less popular than when he started demonstrating another law of American politics: when a President travels the country stumping for an idea, it’s always a bad omen. Think Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations or FDR and court packing.
Two laws of American politics right there:
1. When the President tours the country crusading for a policy initiative, it’s already lost.
2. There are no mandates in American politics.
Think about FDR in 1936. If anyone ever had a mandate, it was FDR 1936. He won 46 of 48 states-as goes Maine so goes Vermont. He won 523 of 531 electoral college votes. He had a Senate with 76 Democrats and a House with a huge super majority: 334-88.
Yet, FDR-probably mistakenly-went out on a limb for court packing and he had his first big defeat, at the hands of his own party in Congress. FDR should have just declared victory after the SJC started ruling in favor of his New Deal policies. But he got stubborn. This is another lesson from American politics: generally, being stubborn is a vice,
George W. Bush was also very stubborn which ultimately didn’t serve him well.
What seems clear-this is a point LBJ understood-is in politics you usually get only a short window to enact an ambitious policy agenda. Even FDR only had about 3 years: 1932-1935. Then the SJC started finding all his legislation-AAA, NRA, etc-unconstiutional.
In 1937 he brought the SJC to heal but then the conservatives in Congress-mostly conservative Democrats- rose up against him.
LBJ had only a couple of years for his Great Society: 1965, 1966. Then between his getting mired in Vietnam and the rise of massive social unrest, he was basically lame duck from there on out.
Even Reagan’s popularity slipped after Iran-Contra. Point is, you usually have a willing, supportive Congress so long. Obama got two years and the American people never gave him a Congress willing to work with him in passing anything after that.
Point is you have a small window. And Trump and the GOP are squandering what window they have.
Regarding Obamacare, the GOP are missing the lesson of the Dems circa 2010: most people prefer the status quo and are anxious about a lot of very quick change. In all policy there are winners and losers. But loss aversion means that when you have an ambitious new policy agenda, those who stand to lose are much more vocal than those who stand to gain from it.
In this sense, when you want to enact big changes you are playing into the wind while your reactionary opponents have the wind at their backs.
The GOP failed to grasp that while the Dems got little upside from passing ACA, and the law was never terribly popular-not terribly unpopular either, just mediocre-that this didn’t mean that overturning it would therefore be very popular.
The GOP has no idea what it’s doing with ACA. As Morning Joe said today, the GOP is kidding itself that these are paid protesters.
Then there’s Trump. He has not helped his party at all. First of all, he seems scarcely interested in signing legislation which is what it’s all about. He started out the first week going gangbusters with executive order after executive order. He seemed to think that he could set policy in a totally unitary way.
The courts have disabused him of this, bigly.
“Trump’s chaotic management has led the courts to dramatically curb his power only three weeks into his administration. The decision by a 9th Circuit panel to uphold the temporary restraining order blocking his immigration ban was notable for its criticism of the administration’s shifting execution of the order, including an after-the-fact attempt by White House counsel Don McGahn to change its meaning.”
“But it was the panel’s language about the courts’ ability to review Trump’s immigration actions that may have the most lasting effect. Responding to Justice Department claims that the courts could not even review the president’s immigration order, the judges wrote, “there is no precedent to support this claimed unreview ability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”
“This language echoed court decisions late in the George W. Bush administration, curbing what the judiciary came to believe were overly aggressive claims of executive power by President Bush. Those decisions came after years of executive branch overreach, however. Trump’s first judicial smackdown took less than a month. He may yet win this battle, but the appeals panel concluded that the flawed immigration order, the administration’s far-reaching legal claims and the president’s attacks on the very legitimacy of the courts necessitated a sharp curb of his authority now.”
He’s pulled back on the pace of EOs now. But what he hasn’t been doing is signing any legislation. At this point he’s managed to sign one bill: the bill exempting Mathis from the rule of x amount of years as a civilian.
“By this time in 2009, Obama had expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover more children in families living near poverty, and had signed legislation making it easier for women suffering from pay discrimination to file lawsuits. By February 17, he had signed an $800 billion economic rescue bill, and his congressional caucuses were aligned in principle behind the health care reform architecture that ultimately became Obamacare. He had filled nearly every cabinet vacancy, with people who were qualified to run their respective departments, and none of his executive orders had triggered global crisis or destroyed the country’s credibility.”
“The Bush administration had a slower start, but this was at least partially attributable to the fact that Bush’s transition didn’t begin until after the Supreme Court had installed him into the presidency in mid-December. By June, he’d passed a large income tax cut, with modest bipartisan support.”
“Trump has thus far signed one bill: to exempt his secretary of defense from the law prohibiting commissioned officers from running the Pentagon unless they’ve been retired for seven or more years. As you’d expect of any Republican White House, his aides are drawing up plans to deregulate polluters and financial practices—doing the kinds of things that have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying “there is a high level of satisfaction with the new administration.”
“This is another way of saying Republicans on the Hill are getting some things they want.”
“But they are also getting to cast votes on the worst, most unqualified, and corrupt cabinet in modern history. They are getting to answer for Trump’s broadsides against the judiciary, and to clean up his disastrous ad hoc haranguing of American allies. They are getting to pretend McConnell’s decision to discipline Senator Elizabeth Warren for quoting Coretta Scott King’s criticism of Jeff Sessions—in the middle of black history month—was a stroke of genius. (Corralling nearly every Republican senator to vote for that censure was apparently part of that master plan.) They are getting to make excuses for Trump’s undisguised efforts to enrich himself and his family. And they’re getting to do all this as members of the most important national institution to fully corrupt itself on Trump’s behalf. (Democrats, judges, consumer brands, civil society organizations, and government bureaucrats, have all conducted themselves with enough basic integrity to preserve a glimmer of hope that Trump can’t just shamble Kool-Aid man-style through the entire social fabric.)”
“It’s possible that a major payoff awaits the GOP. Perhaps they really will repeal and replace Obamacare before the end of the year, even though, according to Senator Bob Corker, “there’s not any real discussion taking place right now.” They seem no closer to a major supply-side tax reform or infrastructure bill or welfare rollback either.”
This is supposed to be salad days for a new President and his party in Congress and this is where he is. A 40% favorable rating and one bill signed.
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