With the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election, elated Republicans all over the country are looking forward to the prospect of full control of the federal government come Jan. 20. However, though Republicans might be salivating at the prospect of all that they could accomplish, they would be wise to rein in expectations. Though they could, conceivably, push through a comprehensive conservative agenda on a party-line vote, they should instead show some restraint. If they need a reminder of how damaging imposing sweeping change on a partisan basis can be, they need only take a look at the legacy of President Barack Obama as he leaves office.
Though Obama himself managed to win two presidential elections, his administration did no favors for the Democratic Party as a whole. After eight years in office, Democrats have a deficit not only at the federal level but at the state level. They face not only a unified Republican federal government, but a record number of states under full Republican control. This leaves them with a weakened bench to draw on for the next presidential election. Much of this can be traced back to the backlash against Obamacare, which Republicans may now repeal.
The Democrats made a disastrous mistake when they passed the Affordable Care Act. Rather than work together to achieve a bipartisan consensus of some kind on the issue, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi locked Republicans out of negotiations — even moderates like then-Sen. Olympia Snowe. In the past, most major legislation had bipartisan support, even if it became more controversial after passage. This time, Democrats used every parliamentary trick they could muster to ram through the legislation on a party-line basis. It worked, but it created a backlash that led to one of the worst midterm election defeats in U.S. history and eventually helped cost the Democrats the White House.
Republicans would be wise to keep that in mind as they prepare to take control of government. Rather than passing monumental legislation on a party-line basis simply because they can, they should do their best to involve their colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Instead of following Obama’s example and getting revenge on the Democrats just because they can, they should try to find real solutions to the serious problems facing our country.
Just because Republicans will be enjoying a new majority come January doesn’t mean it will last forever. If they go too far, too fast, Democrats could easily regain the political momentum by promising to repeal whatever it was Republicans did. The GOP should remember that, though they gained full control, it is a narrow one: They have a razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate, and Trump won the election despite trailing in the national popular vote. This was not a resounding victory for an overarching conservative agenda, just as Obama’s victory in 2008 was not a full endorsement of a liberal agenda. If Republicans immediately enact a sweeping conservative agenda, they risk torching whatever gains they made this cycle and seeing their policies undone.
Rather than being revolutionary, Republicans should be cautious and smart in pursuing their policy goals. Now that they’re governing, they can’t simply spend their entire time undoing everything that Obama did. That will only perpetuate the dysfunction that they rode into power — and that a Democrat could exploit in the future. Hopefully, Washington Republicans will work toward good conservative policies that don’t endanger elected Republicans at all levels of government. They have a chance to implement real conservative reforms, but if they want those changes to last, they’ll need to learn from Obama’s mistakes rather than repeating them.