A Shift in the Conversation

With three weeks left in the election season and voters all over the country already starting to cast their early ballots, I’m noticing an interesting shift in the conversation: a lot of the different takes on what happens AFTER the election.

For example, right now Donald Trump is spending an awful lot of energy trying to convince everyone that the outcome of the election will be rigged. In other words, even he knows that he’s going to lose and – with three weeks to go – is lining up his excuse. That is both unprecedented and dangerous. It also places a huge burden on GOP leaders to speak up both now and after the election about the importance of honoring our democratic processes because it is highly unlikely that Trump will demonstrate the kind of integrity we saw from Al Gore after the 2000 election.

Another way people are starting to talk about the aftermath of the election comes mostly from liberal publications and writers. We’re seeing a lot of talk about how Democrats should react to Trump supporters after the election. Last week I linked to articles by E.J. Dionne and Charles Pierce on that. But perhaps the most thorough look at that came from Dylan Matthews in his article titled, “Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying.”

Any solution has to begin with a correct diagnosis of the problem. If Trump’s supporters are not, in fact, motivated by economic marginalization, then even full Bernie Sanders–style social democracy is not going to prevent a Trump recurrence. Nor are GOP-style tax cuts, and liberal pundits aggressively signaling virtue to each other by writing ad nauseam about the need to empathize with the Trump Voter aren’t doing anyone any good.

What’s needed is an honest reckoning with what it means that a large segment of the US population, large enough to capture one of the two major political parties, is motivated primarily by white nationalism and an anxiety over the fast-changing demographics of the country. Maybe the GOP will find a way to control and contain this part of its base. Maybe the racist faction of the party will dissipate over time, especially as Obama’s presidency recedes into memory. Maybe it took Trump’s celebrity to mobilize them at all, and future attempts will fail.

But Donald Trump’s supporters’ concerns are heavily about race. Taking them seriously means, first and foremost, acknowledging that, and dealing with it honestly.

That brings up the third way we’re hearing a lot about what happens after the election. The big question on a lot of minds is: what will the post-Trump Republican Party look like? And how will they react to a Clinton presidency? We’ve been hearing a lot of speculation on those questions throughout the course of this election season, but they are starting to intensify. I don’t put a lot of stock in anyone’s answers at this point because frankly…we don’t know. In the end, a lot of that will depend on both the size of Clinton’s win and the make-up of Congress. On the former, Ryan Lizza tweeted an interesting reminder.

Kevin Drum takes a look at the future of the Republican Party and says it’s all up to Paul Ryan.

So what will Ryan do? One possibility, of course, is that he’ll take the simplest route: endless obstruction, just like 2009. Republicans may be a divided party, but one thing they all agree on is that they hate Hillary Clinton and they want to prevent her from doing anything.

But there’s another possibility. Ryan is not a racial fearmonger. He’s always been open to immigration reform. He’s consistently shown genuine disgust for Donald Trump. He’s been open to making low-key deals in the past. He’s smart enough to know precisely the depth of the demographic hole Republicans are in. And despite being conservative himself, he may well realize that the GOP simply can’t stay in thrall to the tea party caucus forever if it wants to survive. On a personal level, he saw what they did to John Boehner, and he may well be sick and tired of them himself.

It’s also possible that he wants to run for president in 2020, and if that’s the case he’ll do better if he has some real accomplishments to show over the next four years. Running on a platform of scorched-earth obstruction might get the tea partiers excited, but that’s not enough to win the presidency.

So maybe Ryan decides that now is the time to try to reform the Republican Party.

Finally, there is also the question of how Democrats will handle a Clinton presidency. This one isn’t getting as much attention, but Jonathan Cohn, in his in-depth look at the Clinton policy shop, pointed out some of the challenges she’ll face on that front. He keys in on what will likely be Clinton’s first policy initiative – infrastructure.

It’s not only Republicans who will be giving Clinton headaches—she’ll get plenty of those from Democrats, too. To pass anything at all, she needs to be able to compromise with the GOP without alienating progressives. Inside the Capitol, the consensus is that the only way to get an infrastructure bill is to package the new spending with corporate tax cuts that Republicans covet—for instance, lowering taxes on U.S. companies with operations abroad. Such a move will meet intense skepticism from Sanders or Warren, who basically see it as an invitation for U.S. companies to shift jobs off-shore. (“That is nuts,” Warren wrote in a New York Times op-ed in September.) “I think the politics are now going to be harder from the left,” says one person who has been privy to recent tax reform negotiations in Congress. “I am worried that anything that is attractive enough to Paul Ryan on the corporate side is going to be really hard for the Warren-Sanders side.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of having our national conversation focused solely on a man who is clearly unfit to be president. I’m ready for that to be over and start the process of answering the next questions that we will have to address. These are the prominent ones that come to mind.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .