Will Republicans Come Up With a New Strategy for a Clinton Presidency?

With polls continuing to show a sizable lead for Hillary in this presidential race, it is probably not surprising that a few pundits are beginning to contemplate what a Clinton presidency might look like. Of course, caveats are required. The election isn’t over yet and a lot can happen over the next three months. But I know that this question has been rolling around in the back of my mind for a while now and perhaps it’s not a bad thing to shine a little light on it to see what’s there.

Ed Kilgore starts off by referring to an article in the Washington Examiner by Phil Klein.

Faced with an unpopular nominee in Hillary Clinton, it’s become pretty clear how Democrats plan to win the 2016 election — by painting a frightening portrait of a Donald Trump presidency.

But making the election about the implications of Trump’s turbulent behavior will make it harder for Clinton to claim a policy mandate, complicating her liberal agenda as president should she win the election…

However, making the case against Trump is easier than convincing Americans to embrace a sweeping liberal policy agenda. And Clinton has attempted very little of that.

What’s interesting about that is that Klein turns the whole rap about Clinton being an uninspiring policy wonk on it’s head and pretty much ignores that she has laid out the most detailed proposals we’ve ever seen from a presidential candidate.

Both Klein and Kilgore, however, go on to focus on how an emphasis on Donald Trump in this campaign could affect Clinton’s ongoing relationship with progressives. Here’s Kilgore:

So progressives ought to have tempered expectations of a Clinton presidency, just as they should have had tempered expectations of what Bernie might have accomplished had he won. But you have to figure many skeptics on the left who reluctantly supported her after she won the nomination are going to view any failure to chase the money-changers from the temple of democracy as a function of Clinton’s impure motives and associations on Wall Street.

Given that Obama has faced the same kind of heat from the progressive left throughout most of his presidency, I don’t see this campaign as much of an influence on the prospects of the same kind for thing aimed at Clinton. On the other hand, Tierney Sneed tackles the more interesting question: how will Republicans react to a Clinton presidency following a disastrous Trump candidacy?

There are two things to keep in mind as we contemplate that scenario. First of all, over the last 8 years we’ve seen Republican leaders stoke the fevered conspiracy theories of their base in order to delegitimize Obama’s presidency. That goes all the way back to 2009 “death panels” in Obamacare to Romney’s embrace of Donald Trump in 2012 as he ramped up the birther nonsense to claims that Obama is unpatriotic/doesn’t love America/has Muslim sympathies. Sneed quotes Norman Ornstein on that.

“There was an effort not just to vote against everything that Obama and Democrats were for, but to delegitimize the process and and then take advantage of the anger that would result. And it worked like a charm in the midterms of 2010 and 2014,” Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM.

Secondly, the ground is already being laid to delegitimize a Clinton presidency. Here’s Sneed on that:

But it’s undeniable that Trump goes beyond the dog-whistle intimations of past politicians by specifically suggesting that Clinton could only be elected thanks to a “dishonest machine,” or that she should have been ineligible to run in the first place because of what he and his supporters see as her criminal use of a private email server.

Chants of “lock her up” became the unofficial refrain of the Republican National Convention, with more than a few current or former elected GOP officials egging on attendees in their speeches. More recently, Trump has floated the idea that if he loses, it’s because the election is “rigged.” Now, Trump is also touting the idea that Clinton could have mental health problems and may not be “all there.”

The ground has been laid. The remaining question is whether Congressional Republicans will use it in the same way they did to obstruct anything President Obama and the Democrats attempted to accomplish. This is important because, while Democrats might gain a Senate majority, it is unlikely that it will be the 60+ that is necessary to break a filibuster. It is also very likely that Rep. Paul Ryan will maintain the Speaker’s gavel.

Before we assume that Clinton will be stymied by the same kind of obstruction that has faced Obama, it is important to keep in mind that Sen. Mitch McConnell ran an extremely tight ship in the Senate for 8 years. Other than on the initial stimulus package and some legislation that got through during the lame duck session of 2010, he had no real defectors. That is why, as much as I might laud Sen. Susan Collins in coming out against Donald Trump in this election, it is important to keep in mind that she’s played the “good soldier” to McConnell over these last 8 years and contributed to the kind of breakdown of government that got us to this place. Will she continue to do that during a Clinton presidency? Will McConnell pressure her to do so?

I suspect that the answers to those questions will rest on whether or not Republicans like McConnell and Collins recognize that it was their fanning of the extremist flames in support of obstruction that brought them a Donald Trump candidacy. Will Republican leaders re-group on the day of Clinton’s inauguration to develop a new strategy to replace the one they came up with on January 20, 2009? Or will they continue with the same playbook? The answer to those questions will not only affect a Clinton presidency, they might determine whether or not the Republican Party survives as a viable entity.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.