With only a few days left until the election, many Americans are more resigned than ever to the likelihood that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be our next president and are operating based on the premise that nothing could be worse than the one they’ll vote against.
As unpalatable as these two are to most Americans - in fact, record-breaking numbers find both nominees unacceptable -- each has a swath of ardent supporters to go along with vehement critics. As new scandals seem to appear almost daily, the vitriol has escalated beyond what any of us could likely have imagined. In the end, if one of these two is going to be elected, what will the next four years look like from a policy standpoint?
A Trump Presidency
The cliche about these two candidates is about the “danger we know and the danger we don’t know.” Considering what Donald Trump has said in the past about his views and admiration for the Clintons, his recent about-face remains a mystery. There is little doubt that there is virtually nothing that might not come out of his mouth. Assuming nothing comes of additional allegations of sexual harassment or improper business dealings, we’ve still been told that Donald Trump represents a unique threat to American democracy. Would he try to exercise dictatorial authority and more importantly, would Congress, the Supreme Court and the American people just sit by and let him, as some theorize in comparisons to Hitler? Presumably not.
Virtually everyone acknowledges what will transpire in a Trump presidency is largely unknown, if the campaign is any indication, in many ways it will be a source of embarrassment that will be hard to explain away. What we can assume is that he will try to negotiate deals that are in America’s best interest but at least try to convince others that they are mutually beneficial. To the degree that he believes such negotiations are similar to those he practiced in the business world, it is unknown how well he understands that the carrot and stick scenarios don’t exactly parallel and it won’t bode well if we don’t hold up our end of the bargain and have a reputation as a country that doesn’t keep its word.
If he has demonstrated he is selfish about his own interests, it could be an advantage to have someone committed to getting the best deals for America with the understanding that he cannot single-handedly use American interests the same way he used the allure of dollars he had to give in the private sector.
Without knowing what to expect, much is hard to predict. However, if past statements are any indication that his current set of purported beliefs are not set in stone, both support and opposition could come from different camps depending on the issue.
Further, once the campaign is over, presidents are judged by what they actually do, not the promises they’ve made. For Trump’s large swath of support from a specific demographic of disaffected voters, he’s going to need to perform somewhere near the level of his grandiose promises that hopefully won’t include pandering to alt-right enthusiasts who have also been on board.
If we are to take him at his word, he will be focused on jobs, shoring up national security and perhaps finding ways to work more cooperatively with Russia, which might not be such a bad thing. Other things he’s made references to, such as immigration and abortion, have come out as lighting rod statements without much basis in civility or nuance. Perhaps the biggest problem with a Trump White House is much of the same problem we’ve seen in his campaign: when you’ve lived in the past as a devil-may-care celebrity and say things that are insensitive, the reaction can affect your ability to govern. The media won’t help him in this regard and is likely to make things worse by extrapolating.
Trump will likely face united Democratic opposition and a fair amount from his own party. Then again, there may be instances where his policies don’t fall along partisan lines, so how the opposition will line up in those cases is anyone’s guess. Trump’s negative perception is even higher abroad so it’s likely to be an unprecedented wild ride. His best chance of success is pursuing improvements in trade agreements and tax policy that have a rapid and demonstrable effect on jobs and the economy, particularly where it helps poor and middle class families, especially those who didn’t vote for him. If Trump is going to win people over, it’s going to have to be a matter of actions speaking louder than words.
A Clinton Presidency
This scenario is much more predictable. There is certainly talk that Clinton would lead us further down the road to socialism, which makes little sense considering the Clintons were generally bank-friendly, pro-business centrists. Hillary was forced to espouse more progressive views while facing the challenge of Bernie Sanders and has had to continue doing so while attempting to enroll Sanders supporters but her record indicates that has been more style than substance.
From a foreign policy standpoint, one would assume that there would be some sort of blend of the Clinton/Obama presidencies, which only differentiated from Bush in the beginnings of full scale military conflicts, all of which she supported. The threat of ISIS and Islamic terror seems to have been at times underwhelming to the current administration while simultaneously a fixation with the GOP. In any case, our current action in Syria and Yemen, along with Hillary’s ideas regarding the no-fly zone over the former, are a good indication that our military intervention is likely to continue.
On taxes and domestic policy, Clinton is likely to address of few concerns of her base, most notably addressing issues with Obamacare, raising taxes on the wealthy and gun control. How the Senate and House realign will have a large bearing on what she is able to accomplish. Will she be more engaged in reaching across the aisle than Obama? Chances are she will, so it is a distinct possibility that despite the partisan rhetoric, more legislation will get passed.
But for many people, the most important issue is the Supreme Court.
Most people don’t realize that the vast majority of Supreme Court decisions are unanimous; in fact in 2014, two-thirds of the 72 cases were -- the highest percentage in years. In contrast, only 14 percent of the court’s decisions were 5-4, with just four of those 10 splits along the liberal/conservative lines. Those do tend to be contentious high-profile cases, but they are small in number.
Still, many are looking past the flaws of their respective candidates to SCOTUS nominees. There are significant implications in a multitude of issues that might be addressed differently if the current balanced court tilts left or right and it’s feasible as many as 4 new justices may be appointed by the next president. Nominations have been sometimes contentious for years but no more so than this year, when the GOP refused to entertain President Obama’s nominee after the death of Antonin Scalia.
When it comes to holding your nose, few elections would have the kind of candidates with grudging support we have this year and it seems personality and the SCOTUS are the primary impetus. Then again, this election is unprecedented in so many ways.