The Road Ahead
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The road ahead is going to be more difficult for President Trump, no doubt about it, once the 116th Congress is seated. The thing to do is try to decipher why America did what she did. That’s always a priority of the Sun after elections. The salient question this time is the decision to expand Republican control of the Senate while bringing back the Democrats to lead the House. Why did America do that?
Our own guess — only that — is that it was partly the revulsion over the Senate’s performance in respect of Judge Kavanaugh. Here the blame has to attach to the minority leader, Senator Schumer, who launched the campaign against Justice Kavanaugh, and his partner in the plot, Senator Feinstein, of the Judiciary Committee. If we were the Senate Democrats (a stretch to be sure), we’d start looking for new leadership.
We’re less inclined to hazard that any single default animated America’s decision to bring back the Democrats in the House. The Democrats never offered a coherent program, in contradistinction to, say, the “Contract With America” with which Newt Gingrich in 1994 led the Republicans to break a long Democratic grip on the people’s chamber. Today’s Democrats mainly attacked Mr. Trump’s bona fides.
That was Secretary Clinton’s mistake. If Nancy Pelosi, who spoke for the 110th and 111th Houses, is brought back as Speaker, it may be she will make her first priority trying to put a lid on impeachment. Good luck, we say. Since no measure the House passes can become law without the Senate, it looks like impeachment and related investigations will be the big temptation.
The wild card there is the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller. We recommended firing him — on constitutional principles — long ago. Our estimate was that it would be better to fight the impeachment battle early, rather than late. Feature the situation that now obtains, with the House Judiciary Committee likely to be led by a hard left congressman, Jerrold Nadler, and Mr. Mueller about to show his hand.
This looks like a good moment for Mr. Trump to find someone who can serve as attorney general in the traditional sense of a political and strategic adviser as well as a law enforcement officer. Having the right attorney general might relieve the President of the compulsion to fume at the manifest constitutional injustice, in constitutional terms, of the resistance against him.
That would leave Mr. Trump freer to hunt for whatever patches of common ground might be found with the Democrats. The master of that maneuver was President Clinton, who, a year after the Republicans rolled into the House, declared that the “era of big government is over.” Welfare reform soon followed. We’ll see whether Mr. Trump can find someone to work with in today’s Democrats.
It’s a moment to remember that midterm setbacks — or even shellackings — do not necessary spell doom for a first-term president. Mr. Clinton won a second term after the Democrats lost both the House and Senate. In 2010 during President Obama’s first term, the Democrats lost the House, in a huge swing, and the GOP gained ground in the Senate. Yet Mr. Obama won his second term.
Will Mr. Trump be able to do that after what happened Tuesday? The Democrats certainly made ground in the state level contests, including in what was once, and may yet again, be known as the Blue Wall. Governor Walker lost in Wisconsin and, in Michigan where the Republican incumbent wasn’t running, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won the governorship. Is the Blue Wall turning blue again?
The Wall Street Journal reckons that the chances for conservative policy reform are dead for the next two years. Mr. Trump can, though, keep sending great judges to the Senate. The art of the deal for Mr. Trump might be in the words of an FDR-era Justice of the Supreme Court, Robert Jackson. A president’s power, he wrote, is greatest when he is acting with the express or implied authority of Congress. It’s hard to earn such authority, but all the more powerful when a president can get it. He could start with immigration, on the theory that if he and Congress can solve that, anything is possible.