Sunday, October 9, 2016

No, We Are Not Entertained

Due to the personality driven press coverage of politics in the U.S., nothing commands attention like the battle between the two leading party candidates for president. But the fight over party control in Congress will shape much of policy over the next four years. If Clinton becomes president despite the ferocity of opposition drummed by Trump in his public statements, what can we expect? (The following analysis assumes no severe dislocations occur, such as by violent action by self-styled "patriotic" militias.)

Intraparty squabbles have been evident in the presidential primary season and have only intensified with Trump's emergence as the nominee. Key Republican leaders and moderate candidates like Kelly Ayotte here in New England have not been able to balance holding their party together and being true to basic principles of human decency. Based on the strong commitment of these players to party unity above policy considerations, if Hillary Clinton wins election, we should expect the following:
-The question of holding hearings on the confirmation of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court will resurface. Senate majority leader McConnell has flatly stated that the Senate will not consider the nomination. We can expect some Republican Senators to suggest holding hearings on the nomination because Garland is such a moderate jurist and Hillary Clinton might nominate someone more liberal and much younger than Garland. Any decision will be based on whether the Republicans or Democrats control the Senate. Right now an approximately 50/50 Senate appears most likely. These considerations will be weighed against the advantage to Republican strategists of tying up Clinton's first year in office with a contentious nomination fight. Whoever is nominated will be made subject to an intense investigation primarily as a tactic to prolong the confirmation battle as long as possible. However, if Barack Obama is nominated, which would in some ways be fitting since his nominee was denied, the transparency of opposition for sake of obstruction may be too obvious for Republicans to pursue.

Bottom line: If Democrats win the Senate, Republican Senators will likely pressure McConnell to permit consideration of Garland and he may yield. If Republicans win the Senate, consideration of Garland in the lame duck session seems unlikely.

-If Republicans hold the House majority, we can expect intensive investigations of President Clinton. Committee chairs like Rep. Chaffetz will argue that their investigations are so important to the country, but the result will be that other pressing matters of policy take a back seat. We should expect impeachment hearings, possibly in the lame duck House after the 2018 election, if not sooner.
-Government shutdowns will be revived as a tactic to extract concessions from Democrats.  With the Republican Party in some disarray due to the Trump candidacy, there will be little appetitite even among extremists to allow a shutdown in the lame duck Congress (the continuing resolution is only good until about December 9th). But after January 20th, expect new energy devoted to shutting down the government because it is so important. We can expect the same type of gamesmanship whereby Ted Cruz and the like-minded threaten to shut down the federal government if they do not get their way in negotiations - at the same time that they argue that shutting down the government or even defaulting on the debt are not such a big deal. Congress Models Itself on the Cuban Missile Crisis by Scott C. Monje provides a clear explanation of the Republican Party tactics in game theoretical terms.
-Speaker Ryan will struggle to hold together the Republican Party coalition.
-McConnell will likely continue the strategy of scorched earth opposition to any legislation that could make the new President Clinton look successful. If this was the strategy in 2008 against Obama and the U.S., it can be expected to work even better due to natural resistance of the American public to four consecutive terms of the same party in the White House.
-Democrats will continue to struggle to defeat Republicans in the hearts and minds of Americans on the issues. Republicans will frame the issues in easily understood concrete terms, whether or not accurate, with catchphrases that resonate more than the long sentences crafted by Democrats.

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