“Elections have consequences, Mr. President.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer reminded President Trump of that fact when they met to discuss border security. He warned the president that politics in Washington will change as control of the House passes to the Democrats and his party’s Senate minority can stop many bills there.
Trump had enjoyed almost automatic support in Congress when both houses were under GOP control. If he now thought he could sweet talk Democrats, the target of his most heated campaigning, to support him, Schumer would educate him on divided government.
Many Americans like the idea of divided government, believing it will promote compromise and produce needed legislation. But Mr. Trump’s own party promptly revealed that belief was a mere illusion. Politics is not about public service. It is about power. Politicians today don’t readily yield power.
In Michigan and Wisconsin, Democrats took governorships from the GOP. In both states, Republican legislatures hastily passed laws stripping governors of their powers. Outgoing Republican governors signed the bills.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans had whitewashed an investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, they still took time as they went out the door to hold more hearings on Hillary Clinton’s home email server.
The two states and the House may see the situation flip under the Democratic control.
The parties can cooperate. The only congressional review of Russia’s 2016 election interference is being carried out by the Senate Intelligence Committee, where the two party leaders work together. They are more worried by the threat to the American democracy than to either party.
But the general rule is partisan warfare. Senate GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whips Trump’s nominees onto federal district courts at an amazing pace, faster than ever before. He wants no debate on them. He is surely making some mistakes in his haste, but it is impossible to know who’s unqualified.
Like the Michigan and Wisconsin moves, he wants to reduce the Democrats’ future power should they win the presidency and other offices in 2020. He blocked an Obama Supreme Court appointment, leaving a vacancy for more than a year, to await Trump appointees.
If there is any state where the consequences of elections were clear, it’s Maine. There may have been no “blue wave” in the country, but there was one in Maine. The governor and both Houses of the Legislature plus an added congressional seat are now under Democratic control.
The effect is immediate. Governor-elect Janet Mills has named an experienced human services chief who is focused on, well, human services. The new department head replaces a commissioner who seemed dedicated to reducing help for those in need.
Maine’s lesson may be that elections have consequences only when there’s a change in political control. If the result is divided control, compromise may be more a matter of luck than responsiveness to the voters’ desire for results.
The next elections, less than two years away, may be a major test of Schumer’s message and Trump’s appeal.
The Republican Party is now largely Trump’s party, and he is expected to lead it into the campaign, unless he is derailed by his own actions. Congressional and state candidates are likely to be his loyal supporters. From the GOP viewpoint, the desired consequences would be more and better Trump.
The Democrats have a bigger tent, but can only have one presidential candidate. Will they go with a candidate of change, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, or a more centrist leader, like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar or Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown? Either way, Democrats want to end up fully in charge.
There was one sleeper in this year’s elections, and it could produce the greatest consequences. Following the 2020 elections, all states with two or more House members must redraw their congressional district lines to ensure each has the same population. Traditionally, that is done by the legislature and governor.
In recent years, the GOP in states including Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin has designed districts to its liking. To avoid partisanship, under recent Supreme Court decisions, more states will let independent bodies set district lines.
If Democrats control state governments after 2020, they will run redistricting, influencing the composition of the House of Representatives for a decade. This year, seven Democratic governors replaced Republicans, and they may be key players in drawing the new lines. State legislative elections in 2020 will matter.
Yes, Mr. President, elections have consequences. We are about to find out the many ways that works.