A couple of days after the 2016 presidential election a political commentator, whose name I do not recall, said President Barack Obama’s greatest failure as president was his inability to translate his personal popularity into enthusiasm for the Democratic Party.
Given his apparent dislike for Obama, it is interesting that President Donald Trump resembles that remark.
You will recall that in 2008 Obama beat Sen. John McCain by 9.5 million votes and a lopsided electoral count of 365 to 173. In 2012 he defeated Mitt Romney, but less decisively.
While Obama handily won re-election, the Democratic Party sustained incredible losses such as:
• Democratic governors declined from 38 to 16.
• Democratic senators went from 58 to 46.
• Democratic representatives went from 257 to 194.
• State legislature control shrank, with Democrats controlling only 11 Senates and 18 Houses, compared to the Republicans 37 and 31.
• State legislatures flipped dramatically, dropping from 1,064 Democratic state senators to 818.
• State representative losses were worse, declining from 2,964 to 2,332, a total loss of almost 900 statehouse seats!
• Democrats had only six trifectas (control of the governorship and both state chambers) in only six states, down from 15. Republican trifectas went from nine to 25.
The losses did not come in a wave, but rather in a steady stream, pacing with the president’s unilateral actions, i.e., executive orders that did far more to change the political landscape than any legislative action.
As Obama pressed his will on the American people they fought back with the most effective weapon available — the ballot — and left the Democratic Party at its weakest point in modern history.
After two years in office Trump is off to a similar start. On Tuesday, Republican Party losses were as follows:
• Over 30 seats, perhaps 34 when the dust settles in the House of Representatives.
• Seven governorships whose occupants will hold sway over their state’s election in 2020. Think, Electoral College.
• Over 300 state legislative seats. Think volunteers and ground game.
• Five state legislature trifectas while Democrats gained seven. Think, redistricting.
It appears Republicans picked up three Senate seats, which is no small thing, but again, it is like Obama in that in his first midterm his party also retained one house of Congress.
So while there is no question that Trump and his party suffered losses on par with those suffered by Obama and the Democrats in 2010, the real question is how will Trump react? Will he follow Obama’s example and double down on a strategy that leads to further losses, or will he do something different, something extraordinary, and try to work with Democrats on areas of opportunity? Of course, that depends on Democrats being willing to work with him, too.
I believe there is reason to be optimistic that he will pivot and find a receptive partner. Three reasons:
• First, he is not an ideologue. His positions on many issues are fluid.
• Secondly, his ego knows no bounds and there is nothing that would stroke it more than being credited with building an enduring coalition and branding it in his image.
• Finally, Nancy Pelosi has said that if elected speaker of the House she will not pursue impeachment against Trump, and he rewarded her by endorsing her for speaker.
Two very important issues that both parties have discussed, and even attempted to fix, infrastructure and immigration/DACA, may provide a starting point.
Trump is at a Robert Frost “Two Roads” moment, and I pray that for the sake of the country, he takes the road less traveled and finds the result “as just as fair.” With apologies to Robert Frost ….
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and President Trump —
President Trump took the one less traveled by.