Republicans, time to prepare for a scorched-earth Clinton presidency
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Steve Schmidt, former advisor to John McCainJohn Sidney McCainComey donates maximum amount to Democratic challenger in Virginia House race Live coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Is there difference between good and bad online election targeting? MORE’s 2008 presidential campaign, appeared yesterday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and suggested that it looks like Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBudowsky: Closing message for Democrats Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach GOP mocks Clinton after minor vehicle collision outside Mendendez campaign event MORE is heading towards an electoral college blowout. Asked by host Joe Scarborough how many electoral votes Clinton will claim, Schmidt opined, “I think she’s trending over 400.” Schmidt went on to say that he expects Democrats to take the Senate and to pick up 25 House seats or more.

Schmidt is hardly alone. The polls and online markets currently have Clinton running away with the contest, begging the question: If Clinton wins big, what’s it likely to mean for the country?

Well, there are two ways that a President-elect Clinton might choose to lead.

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The first recognizes the unique dynamics of 2016. Hillary Clinton and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE are the most unpopular major party candidates in memory. The Pew Research Center reports that 46 percent of Clinton supporters say their choice is primarily a vote against Trump rather than a vote for her. Pew’s Hannah Fingerhut has noted, “Voter satisfaction with the choice of presidential candidates, already at a two-decade low, has declined even further.” As of September, just one-third of voters were satisfied with their choices.

Indeed, the arguments for Clinton prominently feature the assertion that, in the words of the Washington Post editorial board:

“Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy.”

In endorsing Clinton, the Houston Chronicle argued:

“The choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not merely political. It is something much more basic than party preference ... (Donald Trump) is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.”

In The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik thundered:

“Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States. ... The American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history.”

Trump has even been called “a danger to the republic” and “a threat to the survival of the republic” by the likes of Glenn Beck and Harvard University’s Republican Club.

So, if Clinton wins big, she could take office by rightfully acknowledging that many who disagree with her policy agenda supported her solely to defeat a threat to the republic. In doing so, she’d credit her win to bipartisan revulsion with Trump and present herself as something of an American answer to a parliamentary, wartime coalition government.

Such an approach would afford Clinton a remarkable opportunity to perhaps transcend some of our national divisions. The price, of course, would be the same asked of any wartime prime minister — a willingness to temper one’s domestic agenda in deference to those who offered their support in order to fend off an existential threat, and not out of like-minded conviction.

If she chose such a unifying course, a President Clinton would modulate her more expansive domestic proposals while enjoying broad backing on foreign policy. She would include three or four Clinton-supporting Republicans in her cabinet but would take care to reassure millions of her reluctant backers that they had not been played for fools, and would wind up with a remarkable opportunity to reverse years of increasingly bitter, distrustful partisan division.

Sadly, the betting here is that Clinton will not choose the conciliatory path.

All indications are that she will seek to barrel full-speed ahead from day one on “free” college, tax increases, expanding Obamacare and the federal role in pre-K education, and unapologetically applying progressive litmus tests to judicial appointees. Otherwise, Clinton risks incurring the wrath of the Warren-Sanders new left — many of whom already feel unhappily about having settled for the more moderate candidate.

For Clinton to pursue a consciously diminished domestic policy agenda, particularly following a high-margin presidential victory, would be to invite further tension into her already tenuous political base.

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Assuming that Clinton adopts this robust policy agenda, the inevitable post-election acrimony on the right between Trump voters and the #NeverTrumpers could turn into a full-blown dumpster fire.

GOP backers who followed “the better angels of their nature” and put country before party will eventually look and feel like chumps, and will be depicted as quislings by Republicans who stuck with Trump. Emboldened by the realization of their fears, pro-Trump Republicans would see a hyper-active President Clinton as yet another rallying cry to push forward their own political crusade past the election.

At the same time, a significant loss by Trump provides the opportunity for those Republicans who opposed him to carry out a whole-sale, populist housecleaning — seeking, once again, to rebrand the party and expand the base. Democrats will attempt to capitalize on GOP in-fighting to press their political advantage, further aggravating today’s tendentious left-right divisions.

Of course, even a big Clinton win is likely to be accompanied by a narrowly divided Senate and House. Even if Democrats manage to retake the House, the Republicans will almost assuredly have at least 47 seats in the Senate. And, while the Republicans will disagree about much, one point of consensus will be the need to hold the line against Clinton.

This all adds up to a now-familiar recipe for gridlock. It also means that the action, much like in recent years, will mostly be a question of executive orders, regulatory guidance, and administrative overreach. 

Just like the founders hoped.

Hess is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.