We are finally less than three weeks from the presidential election, and the outcome seems clear apart from the actual voting–most polls show Hillary Clinton beating Republican Donald Trump in a landslide on Nov. 8.
But, rather than signaling a coming national catharsis, the post-election may bring only more political rancor, with neither side sheathing swords, many analysts say. Below, we explore what comes next in American politics.
The smart thinking is that, after the election, the angry forces that make up a considerable part of Trump’s base will launch a “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party. The Republican establishment, it is said, is headed for a “long decline,” and, as hard as it is to believe, will ignite even greater partisan warfare in Washington. That is especially the case since the badboy king of extreme right-wing media—Steve Bannon—is likely to be alongside Trump leading the charge.
But this seems unlikely. First, establishment Republicans are already savvy to this game. After all, Paul Ryan, the current speaker of the House, won his job in just such an ideological coup in the September 2015. The congressional Republican establishment will be onto the enfants terrible and, having already made clear their rejection of Trumpism as the future of the party, will vigorously battle any attempted putsch. The establishment is likely to embrace Election Day as the end of a long nightmare, treat Trump himself as a pariah, and attempt to move on as though he never happened. Trump die-hards may form a vocal wing of the party, then, if they feel like it, they would be the ones to form a new party, and not the establishment.
If Trump does lose, unlike past major candidates, he will try his best not to fade away. First, his hotel business has plummeted since he started insulting well over half the human race. While traffic could pick up once the election is over, there also could be a residue of bad feeling among those who can afford his establishments. Indeed, after his remarks at a charity dinner in New York on Oct. 20, he is highly unlikely to be invited back into the ranks of polite company that until recently made up not only his client base, but also his social circle. And there is much talk that he will turn to something new, such as leaning on the devout following he has built—and his partnership with Bannon and former Fox News president Roger Ailes (though Trump and Ailes are reported to be on the outs for the moment)—to launch his own cable TV news organization. Trump could couple that with a branded political party in which he could be the kingmaker, just like the old days on The Apprentice.
Of course, Americans could simply ignore Trump, which would force him to go away. Alas, if the past two years are an indicator, television cannot resist Trump and his penchant for the shocking assertion. After the fading of his claims that president Barack Obama was born in Kenya, Americans are now fed a constant conspiratorial diet of a “massively rigged” election, with colluding parties including the mass media, the Democratic Party and titan George Soros. Trump has persisted even as sober voices have debunked his claims. But where will the minds of conspiracy-loving Americans go after the election? We can only guess, but one thing that seems likely as long as Trump is the Pied Piper is that, for a long time, and perhaps for the rest of our lives, Americans will hear just how their 2016 election was stolen from him.
By some accounts, the US has not seemed so ungovernable since the lead-up to the Civil War in 1860. So toxic has the atmosphere been that, for the entirety of Obama’s presidency, the mostly Republican-controlled Congress refused to even consider any legislation that he proposed.
Unfortunately, we expect this dynamic to persist. The first sign of this hogtied future involves the Supreme Court, on which there has been a vacancy since the death eight months ago of justice Antonin Scalia. In line with its stubborn boycott of Obama, the Republican-controlled Senate has refused to consider his nominee, Merrick Garland, even though he previously was a favorite of party leaders. On Oct. 17, one of the most bipartisan leaders in the Senate–John McCain–said that Republicans will resist any Supreme Court nominee proposed by Clinton. His office later walked that back and said McCain didn’t mean it; and senator Charles Grassley, who is in charge of scheduling hearings into Supreme Court nominees, said he will not “simply stonewall” Clinton. And that may be true—Clinton may end up with a honeymoon period in which Garland is confirmed; or Republicans, fearing that Clinton may nominate someone truly liberal, may even confirm Garland under Obama.
But, as suggested before, Republican recalcitrance did not begin with Trump. It goes deep, and individual Republican leaders will continue to wish to show the folks back home how they are standing up to the dastardly new president.
If you think the 2016 election campaign was long, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. With Trump out of the picture, look for ambitious Republicans who have most recently been taking cover behind rocks and trees to suddenly resurface, and do so with frequency, all in the service of lining themselves up to run for president in 2020. The obvious names will be those who Trump walloped in the primaries, including Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. But we also wonder if we are watching a new political dynasty in the making to go along with the Bushes and the Clintons. Senator Ivanka Trump of New York, anyone?