The liberal hysteria over Donald Trump’s election as president extends to coverage of his transition. “Firings and Discord Put Trump Transition Team in a State of Disarray,” says the New York Times. “Intraparty fratricide looms over the GOP,” says a columnist for the Washington Post. “The GOP Civil War Is Just Beginning,” says a writer for Slate.
They couldn’t be more wrong. While hardly anyone—including the campaign of President-elect Trump—expected this outcome to the 2016 election, the Republicans I’ve spoken to over the last week are unified, enthusiastic, and eager to pursue Trump’s agenda. Giddiness is the attitude toward the prospect of GOP control of the White House, the Congress, and the courts. Republicans are ecstatic as they look at House Democrats in turmoil, 13 red-state Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2018, a state and local Democratic Party in ruins, and liberal elites urging the party to double-down on the identity politics that have brought them to this ominous point.
Stories of a botched presidential transition one week after Election Day are easily dismissed. Anyone who has been paying attention can see that Trump’s focus for the past year has been winning the campaign. He fobbed the transition make-work on Chris Christie, and only after he won did he begin thinking about assembling a government. By that point Christie was an obstacle to success.
The New Jersey governor may have helped Trump earlier in the year, but he did not rally to the president-elect after the infamous Access Hollywood tape of “locker room talk” was released on October 7. Then, on the Friday before Election Day, two of Christie’s top aides were found guilty in the George Washington Bridge scandal. Trump axed Christie just as he did Paul Manafort when his former campaign manager’s business dealings came under scrutiny last August. According to the Wall Street Journal, it was chief strategist and senior counselor Steve Bannon who told Christie he had been replaced by the vice-president elect.
The review of Christie’s work began once Mike Pence was in charge. Christie had filled the transition team with lobbyists and members of the Republican establishment such as former House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers. This mix of insiders and retreads was an odd fit for Trump, whose closing argument during the campaign was a ferocious attack against the rigged system that benefits elites of both parties.
Rogers had also been criticized for authoring a report on the Benghazi terrorist attack that conservatives said was too sympathetic to Hillary Clinton. One of Rogers’s former staffers joined Beacon Global Strategies, a consulting firm run by Obama and Clinton allies. In a lament over Rogers’s departure from the transition, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote, “A sign of Rogers’s wide range of friends and contacts was a dinner party he gave Monday night at his Virginia home for some producers and cast members of the television drama ‘Homeland.'” Does that sound like a good fit for the Trump administration to you?
The pace of the transition picked up by the end of the week. Late Wednesday came news that Trump officials will be required to terminate lobbying registrations and pledge not to lobby the government for five years after leaving the administration. The number of high-profile visitors to Trump Tower increased—from Ted Cruz and Nikki Haley to Bill De Blasio, Floyd Mayweather, and Shinzo Abe. Transition spokesmen began to brief the press. There was still catching up to do, but one thing the campaign proved is that Donald Trump, who entered the race a political neophyte and ended it as president elect, is a quick study.
That will help him when he is inaugurated on January 20. Having campaigned on the “Better Way” agenda championed by Paul Ryan, House Republicans are preparing a major legislative push in the coming year. Their priorities are the same as Trump’s: Border control, tax cuts, replacing Obamacare. The model is the governorships of Mitch Daniels and Scott Walker, who left the opposition bewildered and enraged by quickly pushing through major reforms. The short-term pain both governors experienced gave way once their policies were implemented and voters enjoyed the results. Expect a flurry of activity from the House when the new Congress opens on January 3, and from the executive branch when Trump is inaugurated and his top cabinet appointments confirmed.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention the Senate. It’s one of two things that might halt the GOP agenda and Donald Trump’s momentum. The election may have overturned our understanding of campaigns and politics, but it did not repeal the rules and procedures of the Senate designed to slow the pace of legislation. While some bills can be considered under budget reconciliation rules, not all of them can. Tax reform and Obamacare repeal, for example, could slide through the Senate on 51 votes. That’s not the case for border security and the Obamacare replacement.
A Senate bottleneck would allow Democrats to pounce and tensions within the GOP caucus to emerge. It will be up to Mitch McConnell and President Trump to cajole or intimidate the red-state Democratic senators into voting for cloture on some controversial bills. Not an easy task, especially if the health care bill includes some form of premium-support for Medicare. The upside is that incoming Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer is far more willing to make deals than Harry Reid. McConnell will play the inside game while Trump uses the bully pulpit.
The other thing that might slow the Republicans is the Republican president. He is willing to delegate and supports Ryan’s “Better Way,” but he also has something of a mind of his own. An example of this came during his 60 Minutes interview where he told an audience of 20 million that an Obamacare replacement will cover patients with preexisting conditions, allow children to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26, and have no delay between the end of Obamacare and the beginning of Trumpcare. Republicans in Congress agree that Obamacare repeal wouldn’t go into effect before the replacement becomes law. The questions are when the replacement becomes law and what it will contain.
A distracted or peevish Trump could pit one segment of the party against another or otherwise halt the legislative calendar. The thinking on Capitol Hill is that this won’t be a problem and that coalitions will form on an issue-by-issue basis: conservatives and red state Democrats on border security, Republicans and some Democrats on tax reform, Democrats and some Republicans on infrastructure.
Republicans and conservatives haven’t been this excited and ambitious since the Republican Revolution of 1994, when they had to deal with a Democratic president. Come Inauguration Day, Trump will be in charge. We don’t know how long the good times will last. But we do know they will be unlike anything we’ve experienced before.