The 2016 Paradox: Why Trump is Better Than a Clinton Presidency for the Future of Progressive Politics.

Some solace in some troubled times.

Let me start off by saying that the Trump administration is truly a unique horror in government unlike ever before. On issues like climate change, healthcare, immigration, and foreign policy, Trump and his staff are showing ineptitude with the basic duties of governance at every possible opportunity. The scandalous and corrupt behavior of this administration will not fully be realized for many years to come. Things are going to be really bad before they get better.

And while it is hard to fathom anything positive coming out of the Trump era, consider the following…

  1. Traditional Democrats are more energized going forward by an unpopular Trump government than if Democrats were in power.

James Comey, director of the FBI, made a calculated decision 11 days before the 2016 election to inform the public of certain unread emails that might warrant a reopening of the email investigation on Clinton. The effects of this, as put by Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight, almost certainly cost Clinton the election. This weighing of the scales was facilitated with the full awareness of the counterintelligence investigation (underway as of July 2016) regarding Trump’s election campaign possibly colluding with Russia.  Let that sink in. Whether or not this event doomed the Clinton campaign, it provides a narrative that cushions Clinton and the Democratic Party’s losses, especially because of Russian meddling.

Comey, like most media outlets, politicians, and the general public, thought Clinton was going to win. And so Comey, anticipating frothing Republicans like Jason Chaffetz crying foul in the event of a Clinton win, acted preemptively. The same goes for the relentless, mind-numbingly awful coverage of Clinton emails compared to other campaign issues.  The major networks devoted more time to Clinton email stories than every single other policy issue COMBINED in an attempt to hold the presumptive president accountable. If you or someone you love still says things along the lines of “but her emails,” please direct them to this hyperlinked article explaining the issue in a sober way. The upside of Clinton not winning is (hopefully) that we never have to indulge this bullshit again.

Despite the thumb on the scales, she won the popular vote by 3 million after all, and lost the electoral college by a mere 80,000 votes, the closest margin in U.S. history. It’s no wonder why the women’s march was the largest protest movement in US history. It’s why there has been relentless resistance to the Trump administration on a host of issues, and why Republicans are feeling major heat in their town hall events. This outrage and energy, which Clinton’s base lacked in 2016, is absolutely essential to Democratic turnout and capability in 2018 and 2020. And further, Trump only won with 46 percent of the vote. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias pointed out, if Trump doesn’t lose a single voter between now and 2020, he could still lose really badly because of changing demographics. John McCain lost with 45.5 percent of the vote in 2008.

 2. A Trump presidency exposes his incompetence and the inability of the Republican Party to govern. Clinton’s Presidency would have been pure gridlock.

Perhaps the most important silver lining of the Trump era is that it forces him to govern on the bullshit campaign rhetoric. The same goes for the Republican Party. The Republican Party has arguably been in ruins since 2008, at least at the national level. Obama’s landslide that year ushered two years of incredible achievement for liberal policy ideas and diplomacy. And congressional Republicans, instead of cooperating with Obama or applying good faith efforts in governance, executed 8 years of total scorched earth. Since 2008, the Republicans in Congress have misled and lied about their own policy objectives, and fear mongered the hell out of everything of the Obama era. Unprecedented levels of obstruction turned out to be valuable to Republicans, with successful elections for the Republicans in 2010, 2014, and the culmination of this effort in 2016.

Perhaps the greatest problem for liberals with Clinton winning the presidency would have been the fact even if she won, Republicans were still going to control the House of Representatives, and would only possibly have a slim majority in the Senate, if at all. Sure, she could maybe get a Supreme Court appointee in, but under Republican obstruction, any accomplishments within her first term would be limited to regulatory or executive orders–much like Obama’s final term, all while Congressional Republicans were preparing to launch endless investigations into whatever Clinton might have eaten for breakfast the day before. Not exactly a bipartisan sign of greatness to come.

With Trump winning, and the Republicans controlling the entire government, the GOP’s lack of policy ideas and their inability to constructively govern is exposed. No longer can their argument and lamentation of “if we just controlled government, a true age of American greatness in policy would rise,” be used.  Conservative ideas on just about everything are terribly unpopular. Tax cuts for the rich are unpopular. Taking away people’s healthcare is unpopular. Trickle down economics and budgeting are unpopular. The austerity politics Republicans have sculpted their image in do nothing to address the Nation’s real problems or the changing economy. And that means everything they promised to do will cost them political capital and credibility, all while being forced to hold hands with a deeply unpopular president and looking the other way on the scandals being continuously churned out of the White House. Trump’s own book has a quote alluding to the fact that bullshitting is great until people realize you’re not producing the goods. Look no further than the GOP’s signature legislative priority: repealing and replacing the ACA (Obamacare). Seven years of dozens of repeal votes and unrelenting campaign rhetoric have completely imploded in the Republican Party’s face in an embarrassing defeat for both them and Trump.  This is incredibly important for the country to watch, because it shows how fradulent the Republican and Trump platforms are, which destroys any lingering thoughts of greatness in a Trump presidency that might have survived had he lost.

Had Clinton won, she (like Trump) would be presiding over a difficult to improve situation. The economy in its current state is at full employment, with modest gains in wages and reductions in income inequality (Thanks Obama). This means that the Federal Reserve will likely raise interest rates to cool the economy. The U.S. is also due for a recession. Economies do not rise indefinitely. I would argue that conservative supply side economics make economies worse, less efficient, and more vulnerable to recessions, but the truth is that even under the perfect economic policymaking, recessions and slowdowns will happen. Its cyclical. But the biggest deciding factor for most voters is the economy. So if Clinton had won, the stalemate in Washington, combined with even slightly below average growth, would have been devastating to her popularity and the overall image of the Democratic Party. Liberals would point to the fact that Republicans control congress, but in reality, the perception of blame is largely channeled against whoever happens to be in the White House.

With Trump in the white house being incompetent, corrupt, and unable to utilize total control of government, any bad economic news, let alone a recession, will be focused entirely on him and the Republican Party. Politically, this is the best game of hot potato that Democrats could have, all while holding their status as the victim of a cheated election. They can scream “I told you so,” whether it’s warranted or not, and it will be to their political benefit.

If Clinton had won, Republicans would still have the benefit of not being in power to vindicate their ideas. They could push all the policies they want, knowing full well any bill would be vetoed by Clinton. Trump could complain how great the country would be doing and how much would be getting done had he just won. Nothing would have gotten done in Washington, Republicans would launch dozens of investigations into alleged misconduct of Clinton, and the Republicans could point the finger at her for every national problem that might arise. That crutch is gone.

3. It is structurally easier for Democrats to win because of an unpopular Trump presidency and Republican control of Congress.

The Republican Party at the national level is broken. It’s a divided faction of hard-line conservatives from the 2010 era, which consists of a lot of political hacks who only built a career on obstruction, rather than reforming government. The same is not entirely true of State Republican Parties. The 2010 and 2014 elections that were great for Republicans at the national level were doubly as great at the state level. After the recent 2016 race, Republicans control 32 State legislatures and governorships. These devastating losses for the Democrats are largely attributable to Obama being in the white house for two terms. People are more energized to vote out the party perceived to be in power than they are to keep a party in power. And unfortunately, that perception is largely shaped by who is in the White house.

The 2010 sweep by Republicans was particularly bad for Democrats, because it meant Republicans in newly minted statehouse majorities could redraw congressional districts after the census to be far more favorable to their party. Republicans notoriously redrew maps in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio into entirely lopsided contests where the Democrats would win the state overall in number of votes for House candidates, but would nonetheless get a minority of the seats. Democrats also suffer from being crowded in urban areas, but redistricting efforts play a key role in their inability to win the House of Representatives.

Parties that control government, particularly full control of government like Republicans currently have, always lose seats in the midterms. Politics, like the economy, is often cyclical. Obama and the Democrats got crushed in 2010 midterms because of less enthusiasm by their base to vote for them again, just as Republicans got crushed in 2006 midterms because of lack of conservative enthusiasm for Bush. I am skeptical the Trump bullshit machine can break that trend, since he actually has a record he can’t fake his way out of now.

The recent special elections in Kansas and Georgia are example of these kinds of cycles. If this kind of trend holds in other elections, expect big gains by Democrats in the House in 2018.

Nate Silver opined that if all of the House districts swung as hard for Democrats as they did in Georgia and Kansas, that Republicans would lose roughly 125 seats.  His colleague Harry Enten found that congressional Republicans were in one of their worst positions in generic ballot polling since it started in 1942. Obviously all districts will not swing like that, and each win would depend on the fielded candidate and local conditions. But the Republican majority in the house is only by 40 seats. 23 Republican held seats are in districts Clinton won in November. This is an extremely vulnerable position for House GOP, and they know it.

If Hillary Clinton had won a third term for the Democrats, she would almost certainly have lost Democratic seats in the 2018 midterms because of gridlocked and broken government, which would have given Republicans the chance to get supermajority sized numbers in congress because of the funneled blame on the white house. That almost certainly would have also led to her having an uphill 2020 race, particularly if the economy fell flat or dipped into recession. Also important to note is that since FDR, it is literally unprecedented for a party to win a fourth term in a row.  A 2020 blowout win for the Republicans in Congress and the House would be far more devastating for Democrats than 2016, because again, Republicans would sweep state houses, allowing them to redraw maps again. More importantly, Republicans at the national level would have healthier numbers in congress, and probably a less insane version of Trump to successfully sell a Republican platform.

Obama is publicly working to help Democrats win state races in 2018 and 2020 so that Democrats can redraw maps to put states back into competitiveness. This task would be exponentially more difficult if Clinton were in the White House presiding over gridlocked government. This strategy of Obama’s, like the outrage and energy against Trump, is essential to more progressive legislators in both state and national politics.


A floundering Trump administration makes politics more progressive in the long run, which includes the Republican Party.

Trump is a black mark on American history. But he is an important component of exposing the faults of the Republican party and forcing conservatives in the future to moderate and come to reason on things like science and taxes. The Republican party at the national level is destined to crumble and die in its current state. It’s just a matter of when. To be competitive after a tenure of the mediocre or disastrous 4 years that Trump is foreshadowing, Republicans will have to come to the table with better ideas and more practical policymaking that benefits the nation as a whole, and not just apply scorched earth politics and scare tactics. In turn, a more reality driven Republican Party could mean a shifting of politics to the left in this country on things like healthcare and education. The political realities of Clinton’s would-be tenure would all but guarantee she could not have moved the country in the same direction.

Republicans are going to lose seats in the next two elections. Its just a matter of how many and where. And while Trump could be a one term president given his current trend, his defeat in 2020 depends on a strong figure who can lead Trump’s opposition. The best path forward for the long term goals of liberals and the Democratic Party, ironically, is based on being the voice of reason in the opposition party for the next two years. It is this path that offers far more plausible electoral victories in the next few cycles, and the opportunity for a true remaking of government.

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