Supreme Court Rules on King v. Burwell, Ginsberg Doesn’t Retire, Court refuses to wade into gay marriage

Originally published December 22, 2014

Date: June 2015

(Washington) The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the federal subsidies and state tax credits were limited to those state run exchanges, rather than those that operated through the federally operated exchanges. The Republican appointed justices all joined the majority while the Democratic appointed ones were in the minority. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas. Dissenting was Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. The Chief Justice wrote for the majority that the statutory language clearly referenced to state run exchanges and if Congress should alter the language, they should act on it. Justice Scalia concurred, noting his long history of looking at congressional intent to determine the intent of the statutory language. In Ginsberg’s dissent, she took a broader view of the statutory language and argued the Court was being needlessly pedantic and pointed in trying to limit the extent of the subsidies.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) both stated they would negotiate with the White House on the Affordable Care Act subsidies, and both leaders indicated they would seek reform. For its part, the White House said it would push Congress to send clarifying language on the Affordable Care Act, to ensure the federal subsidies remained in place for those who had already signed up for health care plans. Analysts suggested the states would move quickly, with technical language to comply with the court decision, in order to avoid a situation where people were unable to pay the premiums.

In the end, most analysts called the Court decision a political one, where the conservative majority was sending a signal about their views of the Affordable Care Act. Analysts noted that the state legislatures had been given an out to redefine and reclassify the exchanges as state – based, thus limiting the fallout. Most analysts predicted the states would, in fact, do that. The move by the Court gave conservative opponents a bargaining chip, but not necessarily a debilitating blow against the law. Health and Human Services announced that it would be working with state officials to ensure that the exchanges were appropriately reclassified.

Meanwhile, none of the justices signaled an intent to retire. Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not announce retirement plans, signaling that she intended to stay on the court throughout the end of the Obama presidency. The conservative justices likewise did not announce retirement plans, with most analysts suggesting they were waiting for a Republican President.

Among its final orders of the year was a continued refusal to overturn the lower courts’ ruling that gay marriages go forward in Florida and other states. Analysts suggested the Court was unwilling to take on a battle where public opinion had so markedly shifted in favor of gay marriage.

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Paul, Clinton win New Hampshire Primary

Originally published December 22, 2014

Date
: Late January 2016

(Nashua, New Hampshire) Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Secretary Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) won the New Hampshire primaries, respectively. Mr. Paul won 34.23% and 89,668 votes while Ms. Clinton secured 52.63% and 132,682 votes. Both winners came into the state as expected winners, and kept it that way. In 2008, Ms. Clinton had won the state in the Democratic primary, while New Hampshire’s libertarian lean boosted Mr. Paul here. New Hampshire had also been among Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.)’s best states in the 2012 Republican primaries. It was also the state that prompted then-Governor Bill Clinton (D-Ark.) to claim the title “the Comeback Kid,” after his 1992 campaign outperformed expectations there.

Ms. Clinton’s campaign had gone into New Hampshire with the intent to put down the insurgent Martin O’Malley campaign by a convincing margin. According to final tabulations, former Governor O’Malley (D-Md.) secured 41.86% and 105,531 votes while others secured 5.51%. Ms. Clinton’s aides, however, did not crow over the results. They indicated that it was progress, but memories of the 2008 nomination struggle lingered over the victory. The campaign had laid the groundwork to replicate their 2008 victory, in case a challenger had caught momentum in Iowa. Ms. Clinton significantly outperformed her 2008 plurality of 39.09%; winning broad majorities across almost every demographic. Her weakest demographic, relatively, were liberals, who split their vote 51-46% for Ms. Clinton. Moderate Democrats strongly boosted the Clinton candidacy with 57% of their votes.

The O’Malley campaign tried to spin the showing as a positive sign that Mr. O’Malley had emerged as the definitive main challenger to Ms. Clinton. Konstantina Raptis, the O’Malley press secretary, defended the O’Malley candidacy to reporters early Wednesday morning, arguing that the governor had presented a liberal alternative and forced Ms. Clinton to embrace more liberal views. The campaign further argued the O’Malley campaign had been disciplined and organized, given its relative poverty to the Clinton campaign.

On the Republican side, Mr. Paul’s aides cheered the results. After their disappointing fourth place showing in Iowa, Mr. Paul’s comeback in New Hampshire provided him with fresh momentum. Moderates made up 32% of the Republican electorate; somewhat conservative 30%, and very conservative 24%; with more liberal leaning voters making up the remainder. Mr. Paul carried very conservative voters and somewhat conservative voters. Second place finisher Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) won moderates and more liberal Republicans on his way to winning 25.61% and 67,087. Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) secured third place with 21.43% and 56,137 votes.

The Paul campaign highlighted the fact that more voters had opted to vote in the Republican primaries than in 2012 and that they had won the votes of younger voters. They also pointed to a strong organization in the state. For their parts, Messers. Christie and Walker gamely said they would fight on.

Fourth place and fifth place finishers Messrs. Jindal (R-La.) and Kasich (R-Ohio) posted a poor showing, and both men were expected to announce their withdrawals from the primary race. Aides to both candidates indicated that they were strong candidates with formidable resumes, but the political oxygen had gone to Messrs. Paul, Christie, and Walker. Aides privately hoped they would be picked for vice president by whoever emerged as the Republican Presidential nominee.

Both parties now face the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses, and the New York and Utah primaries.

The 47th President and the Great Realignment

Note: Here is the ending. It will be a very long project but I have sketched out the basics and decided to pre-write the ending. Mostly because my timeline is going to end in 2024-2028, and its important we see the ending, so you can see the trend lines when we start at the Trump Presidency. Keep this article in mind as we work from Trump to this President.

November 2024 

The 47th President – elect of the United States sat by the fireplace, sighing with a sigh of content. It had been a long and hard contest. But in the end, he had prevailed against the incumbent Republican President, and won a decisive victory. Pulling up his tablet, he scanned the map. He had won over 400 electoral votes and 59% of the vote. Matter of fact he had swept the Sunbelt, the Midwest, and held the coastal areas – and regained much of Dixie. In the closing weeks of the campaign, the desperate Republicans had berated him for being a socialist, a radical, and someone untrustworthy to be President. They were right, he was a radical, but these were desperate times and the country had elected him – a Sanders liberal with a pragmatic streak – to the White House to restore the country after eight years of alt-right and corporate conservative GOP rule.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, God rest his soul, was dead but was certainly happy about the election results, somewhere. 58 U.S. Senators were Democrats and over 300 House Democrats were elected in November. Among the governorships, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona now were in Democratic hands, as was the governorships of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio. And the Democratic blue dogs were long since gone, meaning the progressive majority was deep and entrenched. He was pleased about that, both as a liberal and (soon to be former) governor.

Drumming his fingers, he pored over the results. Texas, 52-43% Trump in 2016, had flipped to 51-47% him, while Arizona and Georgia were now firmly blue. The new President had barreled down the Midwest taking Michigan with 58%, Wisconsin with 55%, Pennsylvania 53%, and Ohio 52%. All of this had meant he had won the election with 59% of the vote compared to 39% to the GOP, a 14% spread. It was the largest margin for a Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 win.

The results took his mind off the calamity of the economic crisis. The deep, pervading economic crisis had hit a while back, and the incumbent Republicans had grappled with the crisis. He had campaigned vigorously for universal college tuition, single payer, and a pathway for legal immigration. He had also been a strident voice for internationalism, in contrast to the last several years. Climate change, of course, was on the top of his list. It had probably delivered him Florida and the coastal states including North Carolina.

He put on his glasses, peering at the exit polls. 65% of the electorate was white, compared to 35% for nonwhite. About right, he reckoned. The Latino vote had swelled to 14% of the electorate, the African American coalition had stayed at 13%, Asians had increased to 6% and others remained at 2%. They had combined for an astounding 85% for the Democratic ticket, but what was most interesting was the white vote. He had taken 44% of the white vote, a marked improvement from Hillary Clinton’s 37%.  Still, lots of work there to be done, he mused. The working class white vote had remained staunchly Republican, but college educated whites had swung from a 49-45% Trump margin in ’16 to a 55-43% margin for the Democrats. He grumbled inwards but then chuckled. At least he had narrowed the GOP advantage among working class whites.

Among the minority vote? 84% among Latinos, 91% among African Americans, 84% among Asians, and 71% among others. Not bad at all, not bad at all. The growing power of the Latino vote coupled with the Democratic bloc of white voters would reshape the country’s future, in deep and profound ways. Tensions still existed between whites and non-white voters, but the Democrats had brought them together. Amazing.

Millennial voters and those after had really come into their own. They now made up nearly half of the electorate – and they had voted Democratic with a vengeance, with the youngest cohort going Democratic by a stunning 67-30%. Older millennial voters were better for the GOP, but not by much.

His eyes darted over to a message. The President wanted to meet him according to a senior aide. Wanted to talk about the economic crisis, put up a united front. He snorted. The hell he would. Franklin hadn’t cooperated with Herbert and he wasn’t about to cooperate with the President. Roosevelt’s portrait would be back in the Oval Office – and it was high time.

He reflected a bit about how the coalitions had changed, how times had changed. When Obama had been elected, he had been a young man, on the make. When Trump had become president, he was still a lowly state officer. It only had been in the last few years he had shot to national fame. Only three years before, the Republicans were expected to win a third term of their own.

It had been a struggle to win the Democratic Party over. The civil war had raged deep and intensely. The business wing and the establishment wing had fought the Sanders wing and then litigated the war even more harshly during 2020. The economic crisis had, however, put the Sanders wing in power and enabled him to become the nominee. The vicious general election campaign that had followed had been a sign of the Republican desperation, their shrinking base circling the drain, and the alt right pushing hard for all out war. But it had been one of these campaigns, where the sense of realignment had hung in the air.

There was a angry, deep pervasive sense that realignment had been needed, after all. The Western world had been battered by decades of economic stagnation. In the United States, it had brought down several presidencies, starting with George W. Bush. There was a sense, a profound one, of a need for a new international and economic order. He had to be very careful about his free trade ideology; he had to thread the needle there. He had campaigned to break the GOP stranglehold and done it. He had swept the country, asked for a mandate, and got it. Twenty five years of gridlock, dating to Bush, had crippled the country and now, the two coalitions had met in battle, and one had emerged dominant. It had been a long time coming, and a long painful struggle at that. But the long awaited realignment had finally come and he had pushed hard, for a deep and vivid contrast with the Republicans.

It had been the economic crisis that did it. Not demography. It had shaken the Republican coalition to their roots, shaken their confidence. Key blocs of GOP voters had swung, and swung hard for the Democrats. That had been the break. They had ridden high, but the crisis had thrown everything into question. The GOP coalition had finally shattered into a million pieces, with warring factions that would continue long into the future. Warring factions, he smirked to himself, that would take a long time to unite.

He clicked on a map of Pennsylvania, the state that had shocked the world eight years before. Pennsylvania was a deep, pervasive blue (Democratic), with quite a few rural counties showing up as such. The Democratic campaign had won back these voters – and more, with a populist message of recovery. His margins in Philadelphia’s suburbs had increased from ’16, and ’20. The Republicans had lost their base, their core white voters. You could see scrawling over the map, how Democratic the state had become. Disappointed white suburban and rural voters had backed him, in economic pain. They had been Bush, Obama, Trump voters, and now they were his voters.

Closing up the map, he put down his tablet. He reflected he intended to spend a very long time in the White House. He intended, fully, to remake the country, and to get the country moving again. That was the crucial thing. America would be one nation, and he would – for the first time in many presidencies – represent and have the country’s trust to lead, for a vision that the country was behind.

Now he was President-elect. The radical governor with establishment ties, the leader of the free world, the 47th President of the United States.

Written November 13, 2016. All Rights Reserved. (C) “BetweenTwoMajorities.”

Situating the Trump Coalition

(New York, New York) First came the Jeffersonian agrarians, then the Lincoln-McKinley industrialists, then the Roosevelt New Dealers, and finally, the Reagan Revolutionaries. America’s four majority coalitions to date have centered on the economy and the cultural issues facing the country. Upon this axis would rest the four great majorities.

The majority would rise in a pivotal election that would later be seen as instrumental. They would govern and implement their policies for several decades as the country grew. An election would occur that would slightly change the course of their original majority but retain the basic contours. A second election would come sometime later that presaged the coming changes. Then, a series of failed presidencies amidst a weakening economy and growing cultural strife would imperil the majority. A new majority would then decisively defeat the old ones after a major crisis.

Key tenets of the majority coalition would be a pro-hawkish viewpoint and policies that would benefit the new economic and cultural order.

The Jeffersonian Democrats were the majority party from 1801 to 1860. President Thomas Jefferson (D-Virginia) engineered the first majority, centered around a white agrarian society. This made sense as the Industrial Revolution was in its infancy and the need for the infrastructure that would dominate the Industrial Revolution was not yet there. Andrew Jackson (D-Tennessee) would build on Thomas Jefferson’s majority by adding frontier white men, who won the franchise in around 1824. But not until the 1850s and 1860s would the Democratic coalition be threatened.

Around 1845, slavery would become an issue – and so would the impending Industrial Revolution. They would go hand in hand, as a series of failed presidencies occurred, in a desperate bid to contend with the two factors. Dredd Scott, the Wilmot Proviso, and countless negotiations failed to resolve the standoff between the industrial North and the agrarian South. When Civil War came, so did the Lincoln industrial Republicans. The Republicans would be the dominant political party for 72 years, matching the Jeffersonian record.

A series of failed presidents would presage the rise of Congressman Abraham Lincoln (R-Illinois) to the presidency. Presidents Zachary Taylor (W-Louisiana), Millard Fillmore (W-New York), Franklin Pierce (D-New Hampshire), and the last, James Buchanan (D-Pennsylvania) would all struggle with the new industrial economy and slavery — and fail.

Buchanan would have the most painful task, as the country fell apart. Dredd Scott and the Lecompton Constitution would mark the Buchanan Administration. The Panic of 1857 would hit the North hard while the agrarian South would be less affected, as well. In the end, events would spiral out of Buchanan’s control and the Union would break apart in his final months.

The Lincoln Republicans existed for a simple reason. The industrializing North would need a political advocate that defended their interests. President Abraham Lincoln (R-Illinois) and his successors would bless the rapidly industrializing nation with infrastructure support, tariffs, and so on. Slavery would be the central issue that needed resolution. Therefore, the Republicans took power as the Democrats became a rump regional party that favored economic policies out of step with the dominant GOP majority.

The cities would hold sway for a century, until the election of 1980. Lincoln’s Republicans and later, F. Roosevelt’s Democrats would rely on the great cities and their teeming swarms of immigrants and industrial workers to buttress their political power.

In 1896, a pivotal election occurred that reaffirmed the strength of the Lincoln Republican Party. Governor William McKinley (R-Ohio) defeated Congressman William Jennings Bryan (D-Nebraska), and cemented the Republican Party’s dominance as the pro-industrial and pro-gold party. The Republican Presidencies that would followed would be strongly pro-business. The populists would lose out (although they would see many of their policies ratified in the first decade of the 20th century). Still, the Populists, crucially, would become Democrats down the road and play a large role in their future majority.

So, around the first decade of the 20th century, the emerging Democratic majority came into view. Theodore Roosevelt (R-New York)’s progressive ideology would break up the trusts and create food safety laws, among other things. Then his Republican successor, William A. Taft (R-Ohio) would straddle between the conservatives and the progressives, before the all out war of 1912 inside the Republican Party forever drove out the progressive Republicans.

A little interlude before we move on. A little known panic of 1908 would presage the 1929 crash two decades later (and eerily, the 2008 one a century later, on the dot). The country would be momentarily thrown into upheaval with a stock market crash. Only the firm work of the bankers would save the country and continue the GOP majority. But the near miss would have presaged the need for government intervention in later decades.

The first Democrat to capture the White House since conservative Grover Cleveland, Gov. Thomas Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey) would institute the Federal Reserve and usher in a temporary progressive era. The 16th Amendment (income taxation) and banking reform would come with the Wilson Administration, along with the Federal Trade Commission. President Wilson’s internationalist leanings would set the stage for the later Democratic majority that came under the second President Roosevelt. The 19th Amendment would also be ratified during this era, giving women the right to vote.

But the country was not yet ready for Wilson’s brand of liberalism. World War I’s end presaged a return to isolationism and the desire for “normalcy.”

The 1920s marked a snapback to the pro-business Republicans – but it would be their last gasp. Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover would all be considered failed presidents or presidents that had failed to really leave a mark on the country. The most successful of the trio, President Calvin Coolidge (R-Massachusetts) would enjoy popularity during his tenure but fall into historical disrepute until the Reagan Revolution.

The last president of the era, a former Commerce Secretary, Herbert C. Hoover (R-Iowa), would struggle to uphold the pro-business tenets of the country’s dominant majority. In desperation, he would do everything he could to force a recovery. It would be too late, as the Great Depression intensified. Like Buchanan before him, Hoover would be tied down, and watch silently as events spiraled out of his control.

As the Great Depression bore down, the need for the government to ensure that the benefits of the Industrial Revolution was evenly distributed came into view. Enter a charismatic Governor named Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York). His victory in 1932 would cement the progressive revolt started two decades earlier and maybe even earlier. The New Deal would guarantee an old age pension, banking reforms, the minimum wage, an end to child labor, among other sweeping New Deal provisions. Labor unions, long frustrated, would become strong and powerful under Roosevelt. The Republicans, bitter, would try to resist, but futilely protest. Roosevelt would use the second World War to settle the scores of the first, and set in place an internationalist order comprising the United States, and the Four Freedoms. Like the earlier Lincoln Republicans, civil rights was again a main feature.

The New Deal Democrats were a true national majority, much larger than the Lincoln Republicans. The Lincoln – McKinley Republicans had never been able to pick the Southern lock but the Roosevelt Democrats ruled coast to coast for fifty years. Being a Democrat became akin to being an American – with over half of the country registered as a Democrat.

The election of 1960 would affirm the Roosevelt majority. Democratic Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) would campaign as something of a Cold War liberal who favored civil rights. He would narrowly defeat Vice President Richard Nixon (R-California) and capture the Presidency, setting the stage for the 1960s.

The 1960s Democrats would resolve the thorny issue of civil rights by passing a series of landmark civil rights laws. President Truman (D-Missouri) would desegregate the Armed Forces and President Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) would pass a slew of civil rights laws that related to voting rights, housing, and so on. The Great Society would complement the New Deal in guaranteeing economic protection.

Then came the election of 1968. Former Vice President Richard Nixon (R-California) would presage the Reagan Revolution by winning a narrow victory based on law and order and discontent over Vietnam. This would be the dominant cultural issue and theme of the next sixty years. Nixon’s presidency would end in failure, but the Democratic Party would cede the national security key to the GOP and increasingly, the cultural dominance they had enjoyed.

An interlude as we march through American history. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan would bookend the 20th century, likely the two great ideological presidents that set in place the policies that marked the 20th century.

The 1970s would see, as the 1850s and 1920s did, a series of failed presidencies. Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter all struggled with the new cultural order and economy, and all failed. Stagflation (inflation and stagnation) would be rampant as well as the price of gas. The last, President Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia) would struggle to reanimate the New Deal and to protect the Democrats. For him, it would be, like Herbert Hoover, too late. Events would spiral out of his control as stagflation and the Iran hostage crisis consumed his presidency.

Governor Ronald Reagan (R-California) created a new Republican majority on Election Day 1980, sweeping 44 states and creating a broad, dynamic GOP coalition.  The South and Sunbelt replaced the Northeast and the suburbs replaced the cities as the center of the political universe. The GOP became the party of national security and the culturally dominant party in the United States.

As for that governor, he was inaugurated the 40th President of the United States in 1981. The new service economy needed lower taxes, deregulation, limited government, and a light hand from the government. The suburbs would replace the great cities as the political center of the United States. Reagan’s successors – the two President Bushes, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama – would all pay homage to the suburbs and operate within the confines President Reagan set with his Revolution.

The election of 2000 would be an important point that reaffirmed the Reagan coalition. Like McKinley of 1896 (according to the President’s chief political architect, Karl Rove), Governor George W. Bush (R-Texas) would affirm the service economy and the moral majority’s dominance in the country. His Presidency would cut taxes, defend the country’s interests overseas with muscular military might, and restrict abortion and gay rights.

The election of 2008 would be forty years after Nixon’s “law and order” election and would neatly intersect with the crash of 2008 and the new cultural zeitgeist. Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) represented the new cultural progressives and would end up being a transitional figure for the emerging Democratic majority. In keeping with the rules of the era, the Republicans regained the House in 2010, and then the Senate in 2014.

Times were moving faster now. What took 60 years to do in the 19th and 20th century now took 20, 40 years. The election of the first black President 40 years after civil rights proved it. and Obama would be a figure silhouetting the emerging Democratic majority. His Administration would pass financial reform, the Paris Accord on climate change, demonstrate soft power on the world stage, and pass a healthcare law. All of these would be seen later as crucial to the identity of the Democratic majority to come.

But President Obama would wind up repudiated by the self-same suburbs and voters that sent him to the White House. The election of Donald John Trump would bring the country to 2016.
The two coalitions – Democratic and Republicans – had been passing past each other like ships through the night. The great Reagan coalition of 1980 had united neoconservatives like Scoop Jackson (D-Washington), supply siders, and deregulators as well as the suburbs behind the Republican Party. The Reagan Republicans were seen as the face of America, affirming American values, much like the Roosevelt and Lincoln partisans.

The 1990s had reaffirmed that basic coalition and forced President Clinton to accede to their terms. During this time, the Democratic coalition was small, multicultural but unable to articulate a governing platform, and with its liberal bent, deeply out of line with the service economy’s needs. Culturally, they were even more awkward. The Democrats, with their pacifism, would be locked into the minority, and fail to win enough of the country over.

The election of 2008 would change the Democratic Party’s identity culturally. The first black president backed by a multiracial and multicultural coalition would turn the Democratic historical weakness into  strength. Going forward, it would be difficult for Republicans to triumph without some semblance of a multicultural coalition.

The election of 2016 would feature important changes. The Democrats would double down on their multicultural and multiracial gamble by nominating the first woman major party candidate for President, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York).

Republican Donald J. Trump (R-New York) would resemble, in many ways, the underside of the GOP coalition. If Reagan was the sunny supply sider who stood up to the Soviet Union, Trump would be the gloomy skeptic that talked about renegotiating NAFTA (a key Reagan achievement) and talked about careful approaches overseas. However, they were very similar in the sense that they adhered to the basic GOP ideology of tax cuts, deregulation, fighting America’s enemies, and opposed an expansive government. These similarities would outweigh the differences.

The Republican coalition that had elected Donald J. Trump would be largely white, suburban and rural, and be focused on two groups of whites: the college educated reluctant Republican voter and the more enthusiastic working class white voter. The Trump coalition and election, in a sense, was Buchanan’s long term victory over George H.W. Bush’s more genteel Republicans.

In historical context, the question would be, would the Trump presidency be seen as a transitional one that affirmed the great GOP majority or would it be the first of a series of presidencies that presaged the emerging Democratic majority?

Written November 16, 2016. All Rights Reserved. (C) “BetweenTwoMajorities” 2018. 

The Trump Coalition: Alt-Right v. the Establishment  

(New York City, New York) The Trump coalition that won the White House in 2016 was a snapshot, a window into the kind of Presidency that Donald Trump would undertake. After all, few men undertake presidencies that do not reflect the priorities or values of their political coalitions. And President Trump would be no different.

The Republican coalition – in a word – was out in the open. The alt-right and the conventional right had found in each other soul mates and partners in rebelling against Washington. The same Republican coalition that had nominated Richard Murdouck, Todd Akin, and Christine O’Donnell had now collectively propelled Donald John Trump to the Presidency of the United States.

What kind of coalition was it? Was it anti-Semitic and racist, as liberal detractors charged? Or was it a spontaneous rebellion against Washington, as conservatives said? Or was it something in the middle?

There were facts.

In most of the counties Trump had carried, Governor Romney had also carried. To be sure, Trump improved on the margins and did better than the Massachusetts Governor. For example, in Lake County, Florida, Governor Romney had prevailed over President Obama 58-41%. Mr Trump prevailed 60-37%. The difference was about a 26,000 vote margin for Romney and 39,000 for Trump. Across America, Mr Trump improved on the Governor’s 2012 margins.

However, in the Midwest, it is where Mr Trump reversed President Obama’s 2012 wins. Take Luzerne, Pennsylvania. 51-46% Obama, it was 58-38% Trump. Median household income was $27,614 and roughly 320,000 souls lived there. At 91% white and a median household income of $45,118. It was home to Wilkes-Barre, a working white class stronghold. The swing was pronounced; the last time it voted overwhelmingly Republican was Nixon in 1972 and they narrowly backed George H.W. Bush in 1988. A fifth of this county had a college degree. The poverty rate was 15.8%.

Or take Monroe, Michigan, near the southwest thumb of Michigan. It had voted 50-49% Obama and then 58-36% Trump. At 85% white, at roughly 22,000, $41,810 median household income, it had voted strongly Trump. Unemployment was less than 4% but many felt that the growth wasn’t there that would reward them with the lifestyles of their parents and grandparents. They were frustrated at the direction of the country and at the country’s elites. They wanted the system to respond to them and their pressing needs; ergo they voted Trump.

Between these two types of counties lay most of Mr. Trump — or President-elect Trump’s, as we should now call him, votes. He had run marginally ahead of Romney, and this contributed to his win. But the marginal improvement was slight, and enough for him to win – but also not enough for him to claim the popular vote, which went to Secretary Clinton.

The country had a schizophrenic behavior throughout the results. In some states, Mr. Trump would run ahead of Governor Romney (Montana, the Dakotas, Missouri, for example). In other states, it would be the opposite. Secretary Clinton would run ahead of the President in 2012 (Massachusetts, Texas, Arizona, and Virginia). In general the pattern was that Mr. Trump would perform better in the whiter Midwest (where he carried Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania) and do worse in “rising majority states” like Texas, Arizona, and Georgia. In battleground states it seemed that Secretary Clinton’s margins fell more than Mr. Trump’s margins compared to 2012. In Florida, Mr. Trump ran only a few tenths of percentages behind Governor Romney’s while Secretary Clinton fell two and a half points. The Trump coalition was the same in North Carolina while Secretary Clinton fell by, again two and a half points. In Pennsylvania, the Clinton dropoff amounted to about 3.5 points while Mr. Trump improved about 2 points. In Ohio, the swap was more pronounced (Trump 52-43% compared to Obama 51-47%).

On balance, in the swing states, it was Clinton who would drop off more than Trump would rise. Mr. Trump would run only 2-3 points ahead of Governor Romney, while ceding votes in Texas, Arizona, and Georgia. This explained why he won – while losing the popular vote.

To be sure, on the Clinton side, there were blue states with massive drop off. In Maine, the President had prevailed by 15, Clinton by just a little under 3. In Minnesota, the Clinton margin was about 2 points compared to a little over 7.5 for Obama. The whiter the state, the greater the dropoff (but not uniformly; Clinton carried Massachusetts pretty handily while Rhode Island saw her margin cut in half from Obama’s).

Exit polling indicated that the coalitions had changed measurably since 2012 and 2004. 2004 would be the last time a Republican had won, after all. That siad, since early voting had occurred, exit polling could be off.

In the exit polls, the female vote proved the reason Clinton won the popular vote. While Mr. Trump and President Bush had won similar margins among men, the Kerry margin of +3 among women and the +12 among women for Clinton meant she won the popular vote by 1-2 points. While Mr. Kerry won the 18-29 by 9 points (54-45%), Ms. Clinton won it by 18. More ever, Bush had won 30-44 by 7 points. Clinton won it by 8, a swing of 15 points (or rather, the 18-29 group in 2004 had continued their habit of voting Democratic). 45-59 had voted by 3 points for the Republican President in 2004, and 9 points for the same Republican in 2016. The gap among those in their 60s and over were similar (6 points to 7 points in 2004). Interestingly, the age groups remained mostly the same in size.

White voters voted by 17 points for the 43rd President but 21-22 points for Mr. Trump – a shift of around 4 to 5 points (significant, even though they went from 77% to 70% of the electorate). Of interest, even though whites contributed 2% more to the overall Republican vote, the collapse among minorities meant that from 2004 to 2016, Democrats were a net winner, to the tune of about 3 to 4 points.

White college graduates backed the Donald by 4 while non-white college graduates backed him 39. Crucially, white women with a college degree backed Clinton by 6 while white men with a degree backed Trump by 28.  Rural areas voted by 28 for Trump while voting by 15 for President Bush.

The Trump coalition, in a word, was nationalistic, white, and working class and consisted of many of the same people who voted for Governor Romney plus some who had shifted from President Obama to Mr. Trump. The Trump coalition stretched from Pennsylvania to Arizona, and dominated the South, the Midwest, and the Interior States, as well as winning some Sunbelt states (Texas and Arizona, namely).

As far as the Trump Administration went, what this meant is that the President owed his victory to the “basket of deplorables.” He did not owe his victory to, in a larger sense, to the traditional Republican playbook. What traditional Republicans would underestimate about the President is how unmoored he was from the party at large. He had won by bucking the establishment, both in the primaries and the general. Steve Bannon would speak for the alt-right while Reince Priebus would be the weaker partner, trying to guide his boss towards the center.

But would that actually be the case? Would the President govern from the Republican playbook as President Reagan to George W. Bush had? Or would he govern from the alt-right playbook?

The exits suggested that he would govern from both, but more from the alt-right playbook. After all, these people had stuck by him no matter what. And many base Republicans shared their views and loathing of Washington’s establishment. For an outsider and hip shooter like Trump, the alt-right provided a base of support to govern from.

The Republican establishment believed at the outset that they had leverage over the president. The sad reality is that they didn’t. They had no leverage and the base that they counted on to support them prioritized supporting the president first, no matter what. From Speaker Ryan to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the conventional right had hoped to guide and steer the new president. But they would make – again – the same mistake that they had during the campaign. President Trump called the shots within the GOP, not them.

It would presage, for many, an authoritarian presidency rooted in the idea of creating American greatness and righting what had gone wrong with the country in the last fifty years. In a real sense, President Trump would seek to impose order on the country and demand that the country abide by new political rules that conformed to the alt-right’s desire to bring back a sense of identity (that had never been there). President Trump, personally, was an authoritarian figure who long disliked playing by others’ rule books and demanded loyalty to his cause.

The establishment would get their policies, to be sure. Deregulation, banking changes, tax reform, and a conservative on the Supreme Court would be on their wish list, and they would probably get it. But it would be at the leisure of the alt-right, not because the establishment had power.

Events would now be set in motion for the Donald John Trump Presidency.

Written November 17, 2016. All Rights Reserved. (C) “BetweenTwoMajorities.” 

The Trump White House and Cabinet: A Band of Brothers

December 1, 2016 — (New York) President-elect Donald J. Trump (R-New York) appointed a mix of loyalists and Republican Party establishment figures to the Cabinet. Ranging from Gov. Nikki Haley (UN Ambassador) to Mike Flynn (NSA), the Trump Cabinet reflected the gamut of the Republican Party and showed the victorious President-elect was trying to reach out beyond his inner circle.

Yet, in many important ways, the President-elect stuck to his loyalists. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) won Attorney General. Mike Flynn was NSA. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-New York), not former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts), became Secretary of State. Ben Carson went to HUD and Trump campaign treasurer Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary. Wilbur Ross led the Commerce Department, a usual posting for the President’s friend.

The establishment won UN Ambassador (Nikki Haley of South Carolina), Defense (General James Matthis), They also won a few minor postings like Education Secretary (Betsy DeVos.

The inner circle – the powerful circle that dominated the White House – was the Trump family itself and then White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Trump would not trust outsiders when he ran for President and he would not trust them in the White House.

The children would be the most trusted advisors of the White House – including Jared Kushner, the President-elect’s son-in-law. Ivanka would come next, then the boys. They would constantly guide their father and hold his trust as he navigated the political world. It would come the closest to royal rule that the United States had seen since Jack and Bobby Kennedy. Their father had long relied on his children to run the family business and now the children navigated two very different worlds; the world of politics and their real estate empire.

The staffers were divided into two camps. One camp was the Trump “band of brothers” (and sisters) that had guided him from a fledgling rookie campaign to President – elect. In this group counted Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Roger Ailes, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, and Kellyanne Conway. In the other group was the reluctant Republican establishment that had sided with him. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was counted among this group with his own allies. The Vice President, Mike Pence (R-Indiana) counted himself as a establishment conservative Republican, who more than not was a Priebus backer. But the loyalists and the insiders vastly outweighed the establishment Republicans, who were a distinct minority inside the White House.

The last three Republican Administrations had operated differently. Ronald Reagan (R-California), George H.W and George W. Bush (R-Texas) would mix and match their political staffers from the establishment and their personal loyalists. But at the time, they often overlapped. Most of Reagan’s California camp that were more conservative were also pretty establishment – Ed Meese, as Attorney General, for example. The Bushes, of course, were the most establishment Republican presidents in ages; so they of course pulled from the establishment GOP, particularly Texas.

Trump World had one great distinction from these White Houses. Since it was such an outsider White House, past political experience was not a premium. Steve Bannon, chief strategist, had never run a campaign before August. The Trump family itself, of course, had no political experience. Only Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, and Jason Miller (Press Secretary in the White House) would have prior political experience.

This would be an asset and (later) a liability. The Trump World’s eclectic mix of outsiders would bring to mind not Reagan’s White House but Carter’s. The campaign had been one of the most loosely run campaigns, with open infighting and an eclectic chain of command that wasn’t always quite on the same page. The White House would operate on the same page.

Reince Priebus – the wildly successful RNC Chair – would have the least power in this arrangement. Unlike Denis McDonough and Rahm Emanuel – and Andrew H. Card – who had commanded immense loyalty and power within the White House, Priebus would be seen as an establishment figurehead in a sea of outsiders and loyalists who had come onto the Trump train long before Priebus had. Unlike the business empire, where everyone saluted the CEO and results, Trump’s political realm was far more messier and placed a premium on loyalty and who was advancing the agenda that Trump had run on. (Was that agenda murky? Not to some).

The battle lines inside the White House was very much like the battle lines within the Republican Party. There was the “alt-right” group that favored hewing closely to the Trump voters’ wishes and waging war on Washington. Steve Bannon led this group, constantly arguing that the 45th President be as “Jacksonian” as possible, and stand up to the broken Washington system. The other (less dominant) group advocated that the President do both – ‘drain the swamp’ and pass a conventionally conservative agenda without rocking the boat too much.

Presidential children are not usually part of their father’s political story. The last one to be so was President George W. Bush, who was one of President George H.W. Bush’s major political strategists. (Those wondering why W. was so successful in the first term agenda wise should have realized that Bush Junior spent years shadowing Bush Senior. Senior’s mistakes and presidency heavily weighed on his son)

But the Trump children were unique. They zig and zagged between the warring factions and sided with the people they thought would serve their father best. Later, years later, the tragedy would be that they were capable, bright, gifted and talented – but their father would place more of a burden on them than any parent should place on their children. They were expected to run his corporate empire while helping him lead the free world, without the experience to do both at the same time.

Romney’s defeat for Secretary of State was a early signal of the Trumpworld’s inner dynamics. The people who stuck most loyally to the President-elect had the most sway while the conventional insiders who had backed him. The Trump children – who had ousted Corey Lewandowski – had favored Rudy Giuliani, the loyal New Yorker over Mitt Romney, a man who had called Trump’s foreign policy abhorrent. Combined, Giuliani had won the nomination.

The power lines were drawn. Like in Trump’s business empire, the children were dominant, followed by loyal staffers in the next rung, and needed establishment figures on the next circle outside the loyalists. Power rested with those who had the President’s ear and they would be the children and the loyalists who had put him in power.

Donald Trump had won the campaign. Now came the hard task. Governing the country.

Written November 24, 2016. All Rights Reserved. (C) “BetweenTwoMajorities.” 

Democratic Civil War Underway

March 1, 2017 — (Washington DC). Chairman Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) won the Chairmanship race in a brutally close contest. That said, he became the Chairman of the Democratic Party in late January, with the backing of the Sanders wing of the Party.

That did not negate the civil war raging inside the Democratic Party. Everyone agreed, to an extent, that the age of corporate Democratic policy was over. Barack Obama’s presidency and the 2016 elections had seen to that. Swaths of the Democratic base had sat out the 2016 election, enabling the Republican victory.

The party’s civil war, crucially, centered around three issues. (1) How far to go on social issues (2) Where to pivot on economic issues, including free trade, and (3) foreign policy.

What did the Democrats agree on?

Take the economy first.

Robustly and broadly, they agreed on universal college tuition. Every Democrat agreed on that, ranging from conservative to liberal. It was seen as an measure of economic empowerment that made sense to the party’s young voters, the liberals, and the minorities.

Minimum wage hikes were also, of course, dogma in the Democratic Party. Everyone agreed to a hike somewhere between $12 and $15. It was a measure of how far the Democratic Party had embraced their progressive wing that everyone basically agreed to this. Eight years ago, Barack Obama hadn’t even done that. Given the weak shape of wages in the United States, this was a given in the Democratic arsenal.

Student loan forgiveness. Again, most liberals and Democrats were united on the concept of reducing the interest rate on student loans. This was proposed by the Warren wing and embraced by everyone. The younger electorate that was saddled by high student debt needed the relief and supported the Democrats on this.

A strong publicly funded infrastructure bill. Everyone, again, onboard. This meant high speed rail, investments in the country’s telecommunications systems, and upgrades to the energy grids that powered the nation. This had been at the heart of the stimulus in 2009 and Democrats were broadly in favor of it.

Tax hikes on the rich and a progressive tax system. An article of faith dating to Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic Party had been in favor of raising taxes on the rich and proposed a strong estate tax. With income inequality where it was, Democrats were united on raising the tax rate on the top 1% to around 40-45% and the estate tax being hefty. This was a progressive policy advocated by Sen. Bernie Sanders and represented the Party’s progressive wing.

Socially, the Democrats were singing from the same hymn on abortion rights. They – as most Democrats did – found it settled and opposed the Republican restrictions on abortion rights (including the 20 week abortion ban). They also backed universal background checks and bans on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and backed gay rights to the hilt. Right to die also found broad consensus within the Democrats. The death penalty was wearing thin among many Democrats, but still had some holdouts in the South and redder states.

On entitlements, the Democratic Party’s line was a firm no to changing Social Security and Medicare. The President had campaigned on not touching these two entitlements and now the Democrats felt safe in taking them off the table. The Democratic line was simple. End the payroll cap on Social Security payments and to increase the Medicare tax.

The Party’s support among Latinos also guaranteed the Democrats were opposed to a wall (but for stronger border security), and a pathway to citizenship to handle the illegal immigration issue. Outrage was there at the Republicans trying to limit immigration, but uncertainty reigned on how much the Democrats could counter them.

Global warming? No Democrat, North, South, East, or West were differing on this. They were all united on the issue that the Paris Accord should be in force and that global warming was a serious issue already affecting the coasts. The debate was either cap or trade or increasingly a revenue neutral carbon tax.

The areas where Democrats would have to work through.

Single payer (Medicare for all?) was growing in support within Democratic ranks but many of the Party wanted to protect and expand ObamaCare, including a public option. Debate within the party was beginning to intensify about how far to go on universal healthcare, how to finance it. The policy battles looked like the squabbling of a minority party, but the Democratic debate would have profound ramifications for the country down the line.

Globalization and free trade was another issue that split Democrats. The Bernie Democrats wanted to renegotiate or get out of NAFTA. The Party’s more moderate business wing wanted to expand TPP, and keep NAFTA. This would be one of the great divides in the Party. The next Democratic Presidency would need to resolve that debate – and how. The anti-globalists wanted to retreat economically while the moderates wanted to go full bore.

International relations also split the party badly. While an emerging wing embraced the Obama foreign policy of soft power strength, another wing wondered if the United States was not already extended too much? While the Obama White House’s deals on Iran and Cuba were widely supported across the political spectrum, how far to stand up to Russia and Syria commanded a lot of debate. The Bush – Cheney years had made many in the Party wary of nation building (as it did to the new president).

The rising hawkish wing argued for a projection of soft power coupled with smart power to aggressively project the United States’ strength and to stand up for Russia. They pointed to the success of the Obama Administration on sanctions and the Iran – Cuba trade deals as examples of how to project soft power. The hawkish wing also suggested the United States shouldn’t hesitate to lead multilateral missions, like the overthrowing of Gaddafi in Libya.

And increasingly, a third wing – more aligned with the hawkish wing – raised questions about rebuilding the international order. They asked “What about Brexit?” These new Democrats wanted to rebuild the post-World War II order and argued that the United States was operating inefficiently. These Democrats pointed out that our free trade deals operated under the Bretton Woods system set up in 1944. So, they posited, why not build a new system? Remake the United Nations, rework the framework of treaties that had governed the world, and make them better, more democratic, and more responsive – and ultimately, more in the interests of the United States. This wing argued for a wholesale response to empower international coalitions to act more proactively and to have more power in enforcing international norms.

There was also debate about how to tackle the issue of “radical Islam.” Again the Party was split. One wing opted for the Obama engagement and non-denunciation approach. A second wing wanted to aggressively call out radical Islam and challenge it (the Tulsi Gabbard wing).

The most pressing issue, of course, in the Age of Trump – Brexit was globalization and how to cope with it. The Republicans had won on a harshly populist message of restricting immigration, restricting trade, and lowering taxes (pretty much the 1920s Republicans). Now the Democrats, much like the 1920s Democrats – including a young former vice presidential nominee named Franklin Delano Roosevelt* — would need to formulate a response that would adequately answer their constituents’ pressing concerns.

The arguments that raged in a dispirited, demoralized Democratic Party that had just lost to the populist Trump Republicans looked like the academic debates about the future. But the reality was far more ranging. They would come to define the next great majority coalition – and the country for 50 years beyond.

—————-

* Historical trivia: FDR came up with the UN in 1924. The UN was not a new thing to FDR. He sketched it out in an article in 1924 and then filed it away until two decades later, when he brought it out. He spent much of the intervening decades working it out. Given the current times, probably, some Democratic thinker (the next FDR?) is probably reworking the international system. And has published a obscure article.

Written November 25, 2016. All Rights Reserved. (C) “Between Two Majorities” 2018. 

RyanCare: A Huge Fight on the Floor

July 2017 — (Washington). The Senate floor was a mess. RyanCare had barely cleared the House of Representatives 232-202. The Trump Administration was deeply divided on the topic internally. And Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) was now trying to lobby the U.S. Senate to pass RyanCare. Meanwhile, protests thronged outside the Capitol as people chanted “Hands Off My Medicare!”

The idea to grant Americans Medicare vouchers, for where they could shop for healthcare was a brainchild of Paul Ryan. It had been part and parcel of his 2011 package and became heavily identified with the Romney-Ryan ticket of 2012. The Democrats had used the issue to beat the Republicans, and now with the Trump Administration behind it, they were prepared to do it again.

Trump had been deeply wary of the idea. His aides too, but the insistent advocacy of Ryan and RNC Chair Reince Priebus overrode the concerns of Steve Bannon and other alt-right members. He finally signed onto it in a tepid announcement, and the House prepared to vote. But the Administration was always half-for it, half-against it.

From the start, the Left saw it as a moment for public outrage and ginned up the voting public against it. They resurrected the “attacks on Granny” line and attacked President Trump and the Congressional Republicans over the topic. The sustained Democratic assault caught the White House off guard, which now felt on the defensive. Deeply divided, Trump went out to campaign for the bill, calling it “essential for America’s fiscal future.” But his rallies were populated by many people who relied on Medicare for survival, and polls showed the public sharply against it 55-41%. During the campaign, there had been zero appetite for entitlement reform.

The House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) (who had ousted former Speaker Nancy Pelosi a few months earlier), expressed outrage and voted as a uniform bloc against it. About eight Republicans defected, in addition to them. In the Senate, Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Kentucky) struggled to whip up 60 votes to overcome a furious Democratic filibuster.

Schumer now saw it as his moment to strike. After letting much of the Trump agenda pass early on, he saw it as the moment to strike back. The Senate Democrats, sensing how vital Medicare was to many Americans, voted as a bloc to deny McConnell cloture on the bill.

In the end, with 3 Republicans defecting, it failed 49-51. Medicare would remain intact (and a growing part of the deficit). The Trump Administration’s momentum would be stalled six months into the Presidency. The grand GOP legislative agenda came to a screeching halt.

Trump withdrew in defeat, without acknowledging it. He announced, to great fanfare, a bipartisan commission on Medicare, patterned on the 1983 one that saved Social Security. He called it a “win” and said that substantive reform would be a result of the hard fought battle.

The damage, however, was done. The Administration had suffered its first major loss, six months in.

Written November 25, 2016. All Rights Reserved. (C) “BetweenTwoMajorities” 2018. 

Dysfunction in Trump Washington

September 2017 – (Washington, D.C.). President Donald Trump and his Administration was in a slump. After the RyanCare defeat, despite the spirited start to the year, the Administration was mired in infighting and turmoil.

There had been some good news. NAFTA was on the verge of being renegotiated successfully and would likely to be ratified by Congress. A YUGE deal, if you will. The wall was being built (albeit slowly and it would never be what Trump originally promised his audiences).

The President was growing frustrated. His staffers were fighting inside the White House about the direction they should take. After the RyanCare debacle, the Trump loyalists wanted to take a hard line and focus on populism. Perhaps, a second immigration bill. Perhaps, a tougher line on China. Anything to reassure the populist Republican base that they were onboard with their concerns. Get back to the Trump brand.

The establishment wing pushed back. While RyanCare was a loss, they argued that the time was now to moderate on key issues and to regain the president’s popularity. (Which was now at a deficit, at 46-50). Perhaps, the President should unveil some initiatives on the economy that would attract bipartisan basis. The children and Reince Priebus were on the side of moderating Trump’s image, while Bannon and his allies argued for an aggressive round of de-globalization initiatives.

As White House infighting intensified, the Republicans looked to the fall elections. New Jersey’s and Virginia’s governorship were up for election. They didn’t even send Trump on the trail, to these two states that he had lost.

Congress was beginning to snipe too. The President was angry, and as he was wont to do, beginning to lash out. He had kept his temper in control for the first several months of his Presidency, but the old Donald Trump was re-emerging. He had of course, the usual daily run of minor scandals, spats, and infighting, but overall, Trump had been on his best behavior. Now, both Democrats and Republicans came under fire as the verbal volleys wildly went in every direction.

Democrats, aware of how bad Hillary Clinton’s strategy of just letting Trump implode had gone, began to aggressively attack Trump and cast Washington as a place where “the swamp hadn’t been drained.” Trump retaliated, with tweets and intense rallies, where he denounced the “Obama-Clinton Democrats” for causing the “mess in the first place.”

But the 45th President was trapped inside the White House, torn between his hard line loyalists and the alt-right. His great problem was that he had never navigated a political coalition before, never had to govern, and was stuck without the instincts and knowledge of how to navigate this rough terrain that every first term Administration goes through. With the number of inexperienced White House outsiders he had on staff, they didn’t know much what to do either. The Washington infighting only intensified as a result.

In the end, the Democrats picked up the New Jersey governorship and retained the Virginia governorship. It was not even close in either state.

With the midterms now a year away, rumblings of concerns among Congressional Republicans intensified. Among Republicans in the states? They would be even worse.

It was bad.

And then, Donald Trump made a mistake.

Written November 25, 2016. All Rights Reserved. (C) “BetweenTwoMajorities” 2018. 

Illiberal Donald Trump: Why the Dictatorship Never Happened

The Donald John Trump Presidency was feared by the Left to be the rise of an illiberal dictatorship, on the scale of Hitler’s regime and other neofascist regimes. It never quite happened (although we got a little more illiberal).

Why?

The reason was simple. Trump may have been authoritarian by nature, and his supporters equally so, but Trump did not have the ingredients to truly transform the United States into an illiberal democracy. He needed a strong political organization, strong popular support, and a pedigree in politics. And most of all, he needed a united Republican Party to pass the sort of illiberal measures to strengthen the Presidency.

Now, arguably, that was a 50-50 hypothesis. After all, the grassroots movement that propelled Trump to power had been genuinely populist and authentic. And Trump had the force of polarization gluing the Republicans together behind him. And thirdly, he had a past in the media that enabled him to win support among the masses.

And the national security state had deepened since 9/11, empowering Presidents with the kind of information and power never afforded their predecessors, which was worrying in itself.

But the arguments that countered that were equally strong. Trump’s Republican Party was not united, and was by historical and modern standards, uniquely disunited. Infighting was a staple of this GOP, not unity. Even within Trump’s circle, the infighting consumed the White House, with palace intrigue. The popular support indicated that there were widespread support for the opposition, to the tune of 2.5 – 3 million votes more and the opposition was not loosely organized but tightly organized and densely packed. Put another way: the anti-Trump forces were in areas that reinforced their beliefs, not the other way around.

Meanwhile, Trump’s majority was part of a dying majority. Working class whites were shrinking as a pool of voters, not expanding. The minority vote was expanding, not shrinking. And Trump’s support in the Midwest – where he had won – had been by a point in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The pool of support Trump needed to rely on was not expanding or stable; it was weaker than the Democratic opposition.

And last, the Constitution itself was designed to stop a dictator in his tracks. With the arrays of power diffused through different layers of government, power concentration was hard to achieve without the kind of unifying emergency that had happened only twice in the Republic’s history. That would be 1861 (the Civil War) and 1933-1945 (the Great Depression and World War II). The only president that had truly ruled like a monarch was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had very few restraints on the Presidency in his tenure. No such equivalent emergency existed; just a general economic malaise and frustration with the system.

The system forced Trump into a corner, hemmed in him. Yes, he did manage to pass a few illiberal items. But by and large, the system hemmed him in. Trump’s own antics and need to fight everyone also galvanized the opposition constantly. And Trump’s inability to know how to effectively govern also trapped him. Other illiberal leaders who would win knew how to operate within and outside the system, enabling them to pass their laws with more ease. Trump did not have that advantage.

The real fear was not him. The real fear was a President who would come after him, with strong popular support, a political party united behind him, and with a crisis in hand to utilize the powers of the Presidency. And the scariest part, that President would not be a Republican or part of a failing majority.

[Let’s hope this analysis is right. I’m 60-40 on it]

Written November 26, 2016. All Rights Reserved. (C) “BetweenTwoMajorities” 2018.