Politics & Policy

What Now, Mr. President?

Trump speaks in Manhattan after winning the presidency, November 9, 2016. (Reuters photo: Carlo Allegri)
The GOP must encourage Trump's good instincts, discourage his bad ones, and hope for the best.

Well, that was unexpected.

The polls and projections told the same story, and the pundits predicted the ruination of the Republican party: A narrow Trump loss would set off a long-term civil war between the conservative and populist wings of the party, whereas a resounding loss would mean Trump taking Republicans down with him, probably handing control of the Senate, if not the House, over to the Democrats.

A Donald Trump victory?

We’ll see how that works out.

Rather than being left in disarray, the Republican party is left in an extraordinarily strong position — on paper, anyway. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the Democratic party stands diminished. Without control of either house of Congress, the presidency, or most governorships (even Berniesanderstan elected a Republican governor last night) or state legislatures, the Democrats control . . . a lot of city councils in decaying cities and a lot of House seats in those same cities.

What kind of president will Donald Trump be?

There is reason to be cautious — extraordinarily cautious — in any optimism.

But conservatives should make the most out of the opportunity.

The first and most important thing to do is to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Trump sticks by the promise he made — his record on keeping his word is not very good — on his list of Supreme Court nominees under consideration. If a Trump presidency means ensuring a generation of decent constitutional jurisprudence on the First and Second Amendments, then that will be worth a great deal in the way of tradeoffs.

What tradeoffs?

Conservatives should meet Trump on his own ground on the question of immigration, especially illegal immigration. His proposals on the question have been fantastical — making Mexico pay for a wall and all that — but his insistence that this be addressed rather than being kept eternally on the national back burner is appropriate. There are reasonable steps on immigration that can be taken, an enforcement-first approach that secures the borders (and the airports and the visa system) and focuses on workplace enforcement before moving on to broader reform questions, such as replacing the reunification-oriented chain-immigration system with one based on economic criteria.  

Taking positive early steps to cooperate with Trump in those areas where this can be constructive is useful for two reasons: It keeps him busy working on things where he is less likely to do damage, and it makes it easier to oppose him on those areas where he is wrong. And he is, if we take him at his word (well . . . ), not only wrong but catastrophically wrong on a number of things: NAFTA, NATO, tariffs, and more.

Republicans should be ready for what is coming, though, and go into this with open eyes.

There is not much to celebrate in the elevation of Donald Trump, but there is much to celebrate in the defeat of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There is not much to celebrate in the elevation of Donald Trump, but there is much to celebrate in the defeat of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Some time back, I described the Clintons as the penicillin-resistant syphilis of American politics; it turns out that there is a treatment after all, though it may remind us of some of the more exotic and unpleasant treatments that were relied upon in the time before antibiotics. Mrs. Clinton is an unusually unlikeable figure, having as she does the same sliminess and slipperiness as her husband but none of his facile charm and nearly flawless political instincts. She is also wrong about some fundamental things: what the Constitution means and how the Supreme Court should interpret it, abortion, gun rights, crime, education, taxes, the economy. . . . 

It is a myth that the Chinese word for “crisis” is a combination of the words for “danger” and “opportunity.” But this moment does present us with both dangers and opportunities. We may very well end up with a reliably constitutionalist Supreme Court for the first time in my lifetime, a reformed corporate-tax code, a sensible immigration system, and a more cautious foreign policy. Or we may end up with a series of stupid and destructive trade wars and a president sidelined by personal and business scandals that have not yet come entirely to light. (The president-elect is, among other things, being sued for fraud in the matter of Trump University, an enterprise for which the adjective “sketchy” would be generous.) We almost certainly will end up with an even more distorted and aggrandized presidency.

#related#As has been the case for years, the most thankless task will fall to congressional Republicans, and to the Republican governors and state legislators who do important real-world work that is rarely noticed in the national conversation.

One of those thankless tasks will be learning to manage a Republican president who may be tempted to stray off course a bit in the pursuit of overly grand ideas. But that’s something that congressional Republicans would have done well to learn 16 years ago.

So, here we go.


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