Quite a Beginning
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
As was clear from today’s post-election press conference the next two years of the Trump Administration are unlikely to be any prettier than the first two. President Trump rightfully claimed that as a sitting president facing his first mid-term election he did rather well. While the Democrats took the House back—thereby insuring divided government—they did so by a margin which likely will be only between 30-35 seats. While this does constitute a significant step in constraining the President’s freedom, the successful expansion of Republican numbers in the Senate will insure Trump’s ability to deepen further conservative power in the federal judiciary.
What Trump will face is a very aggressive effort by a Democratically controlled House to conduct extensive oversight and investigate the President’s actions as well as those of his entire Administration. Assuming this Democratic strategy moves ahead, it is likely that Trump will totally stonewall the House efforts. This will force the Courts into the position of litigating every Democratic subpoena, turning Washington into a three-ring circus. (One need only recall that Trump as a New York real estate mogul, constantly drove those who were not willing to accept his “deals” into extensive, lengthy litigation. In most instances Trump walked away either with a win or there was no deal. He consistently kept his own loses to a minimum; or so he has alleged.)
Today’s press conference also signified that President Trump was not willing to lower his rhetoric especially when engaging in combat with the media. His combative nature and his aggressive, personalized attacks on reporters again today will do very little to change the atmospherics in Washington. Trump may want to attack the media for being “fake” but, ironically, the President needs them to present him to the public as much as they need to interact with the President to perform their job. Beginning his first, post-election engagement with media in a hostile environment was not a very encouraging signal for the nation.
Similarly, the President sought to be very positive in his gracious outreach to Nancy Pelosi, the likely new Democratic House Speaker. Trump, however, was incapable of leaving the conversation there. He felt compelled to threaten the Democrats that if they sought to engage in extensive investigation of his personal conduct and that of his Administration, all the sweetness which he was extending was withdrawn.
Perhaps the most obvious signal that Trump is setting the table for a major fight came after the press conference was concluded. His firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, less than 24 hours after the polls had closed was certainly a signal that the President was moving to clear the decks and prepare for war. While Sessions’s departure was expected, Trump demonstrated that he knows that matters are about to get very ugly.
For the country and for the Republican Party there is one new, interesting face coming to Congress in January; Mitt Romney. Coming to the Senate as a 71-year-old freshman, Romney will be operating institutionally from the bottom of the pack. On the other hand, Romney has a national persona and credibility. Should he desire to do so, Romney could well assume the role of national and GOP conscience; a voice to constrain Trump’s. The Mormons, generally, are understood not to be very supportive of Trump. Senator Romney could be a respected conscience. What is clear is that Senator Romney would be able to operate unfettered by any future political ambition.