This Wednesday morning, nearly the entirety of Yale, over 50% of Americans, and a significant portion of the rest of the world went into shock. Donald Trump had won the election. Not only had he won, but the Republicans had also won down the ballot, retaining control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. While it was not a Democratic rout on the scale of 2010, the election left every part of the federal government under Republican control. Republicans now hold the House by 46 votes, the Senate by three, and Trump holds the White House. Most of this majority spent the past few months quietly putting as much distance between themselves and Trump as possible, while a few openly denounced him. The Republicans, or, more accurately, Paul Ryan, have put forward countless plans, many of which conflict with Donald Trump’s pledges. The Supreme Court has one vacancy and will likely have more in the next four years. The question on everyone’s mind is “What now?”
With so much control, the Republicans have three paths before them. The first, and the most dangerous, is if they do what the Democrats have been doing for the past eight years. That is, if they interpret the presidency as a mandate and a means to force their agenda through. The easiest way to do this would be through a series of executive orders. Technically speaking, since the President is responsible for the execution of laws, there is a significant amount of leeway for reinterpreting existing laws and, in effect, creating new laws of their own. Many of Trump’s most well-known promises, from implementing “extreme vetting” to ramping up the deportation of illegal immigrants to gutting the EPA could be implemented this way. Outside of the country, in the realm of foreign affairs, the executive branch has even fewer restraints, further reducing the need for the Republicans to go through Congress. Republicans could also use the presidency to pressure states that have policies they dislike into falling into line with their vision for the country.
Hopefully, however, the Republicans have more wisdom, integrity, and consistency than to try and run the country by fiat. The second option, which would be significantly less damaging to the American system of government than the first, would be to use their legislative majorities to carry out their agenda. They have majorities in both houses, and so should be able to push through the plans that they have spent so long toting at their alternative to Democratic policies. Though the Democrats have enough senators to be able to hold a filibuster in the Senate, the Republicans can still force bills through with enough commitment. Filibusters can be broken with enough political will from the majority party, whether through the invocation of obscure parliamentary rules, such as the two-speech rule, or through sheer, bloody-minded perseverance.
But ideally the Republicans will have learned from the experience of the Democratic Party and will realize that forcing bills through Congress over the protests of the opposition is a bad idea. Hopefully they will realize that their majority, especially in the Senate, is not large enough to force whatever they want through. And if they have any sense of decency, any backbone at all, they will not turn their back on the “principled” opposition they’ve offered to the extension of executive power simply to achieve their goals. If they are, as they claim to be, the party of the Constitution, let them show that they can govern. Let them rein in the power of the executive branch as they promised. Let them bring the power of treaty-making back under the Senate’s control. Let them work with Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have pledged to cooperate on economic bills. Let them govern responsibly.
This third possibility will be difficult. It will involve angering, temporarily, the base that swept them into power. It may well be political suicide for the congressmen and congresswomen involved. It will not produce immediate results. But it will truly Make America Great Again.