Charlie Harper: Out With The Old. In With…?
Tuesday, December 20th, 2016
This time last year, those opposed to Donald Trump in Republican circles were just learning to take him seriously. Most that wanted to stop him – in both parties – did so too late. Despite the ongoing bargaining stage in many Democrats’ phases of grief, he’s going to be sworn in next month. This election is over.
Republicans would do well to remember that an electorate they just won over is angry, apprehensive, and fickle. The 2008 wave that decimated the GOP and turned over the White House and a filibuster proof Senate was replaced just two years later by a Tea Party wave that flipped the House to Republican control. Pendulums swing both ways.
Newt Gingrich used a Lord Acton quote extensively to help flip the House in 1994, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Despite this, the GOP spent more time in their “permanent” majority on the K-Street project than on the contract with America. The excesses that come with power are hard to resist.
Republicans have been given another chance. If they believe the national rejection of the Democrats’ creep toward socialism means to return to business as usual in Washington, then the pendulum will swing back fast. If they are able to consistently message why their actions are good for all Americans – not just the privileged; not just for those connected to power; and not just those in traditional Republican voting blocs – they will stay a bit longer. These messages must soon be backed by demonstrated results.
As for the Democrats, they should use their time in the wilderness wisely. Their total surprise on election night and thereafter has demonstrated that most were totally unprepared to lose. Elections have consequences. Pretending the election didn’t happen, was illegitimate, or buying into the conspiracy theory of the day won’t change the majority in Washington or the majority of most states’ Governorships or legislatures.
Too many Democrats are lashing out, and continue to label anyone willing to work with or show any signs of support for the incoming administration or Republicans in general as bigoted and racist. Yes, it is clear that the “Alt-Right” embrace of the GOP and specifically the Trump campaign was material. Democrats who choose to use this as the reason their policies and candidates were roundly rejected are not being intellectually honest. Furthermore, those who continue to label anyone who disagrees with them with the smear of racism further isolate themselves from the voters they need if they wish to return to power.
Too many political observers - including members of the professional political class as well as average voters – look at the future as a trend line of the present. They maintain campaign mode as a permanent condition. These are both errors made for entertainment purposes as well as a crutch to skip the much harder part of governing.
The stories about 2018 mid-terms and the 2020 Presidential contest have already started. That’s just the nature of where we are in the political news industry. But as we turn the page from 2016, there are many chapters about governing that come before the next election.
The Responsibility for governing is squarely on the shoulders of the Republican party. They have the opportunity to implement policies that reflect the rhetoric. Those looking ahead to the next campaign are going to miss one of the most fascinating periods in modern American history. The next 100 days have the potential to affect the next 100 years.
As such, people from all points on the political spectrum have the duty to pay attention. Democrats may choose the “obstruct everything” path. That is a high stakes gamble, as the Senate map for 2018 does not lend to their favor. Should Republicans win the messaging war, Democrats stand to lose the diminished power of the Senate filibuster in two years.
If they choose tactical opposition, they are likely minimize losing legislative battles and may come out with some wins. The President-elect is not an ideologue, but a deal maker. Democrats need to decide quickly what they want, if anything, and put some of their chips on the table.
With that, it’s time to close shop for the year. I’ll be taking next week off. This time is best spent with family and friends rather than arguing politics. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Seasons Greetings. We’ll see you in the new year.
Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.