JAMES CALABRESI ’20
Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter; outsiders, party dividers, men of change. How could two politicians – a centrist Democrat and an alt-right Republican- have such similar presidencies, while serving as commander in chief more than thirty years apart? And yes its true, Carter with his Habitat for Humanity project and his Carter Foundation have done good around the world, while Trump and his organization have been quietly swindling customers for years. It is also true that Carter was more centrist relative to the average views of his party’s politics while Trump is more a Reagan-Bush Junior mix of folksy charisma, poor decision making, and a love of relief for the rich. However, the presidencies of these two men share startling similarities, ones that in this recently ascendant age of the alt-right presidency, will only lead to as successful a democratic party as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s.
President Trump is his first seven months of office, has tanked his once decent inauguration-day approval ratings and alienated both his base and traditional hardline Republicans. He has insulted swing state moderates, stepped in the toes and eyes of his Senate and House majority leaders, tweeted contradictory messages, and fired his FBI director; this job that has been done with a Republican majority, and the aid of a revived Republican Supreme Court, can only be called a disaster. The long-term consequences, given the history of Carter’s own feud with his party, are catastrophically clear for Trump. Carter’s party, following Republican shame over the Watergate scandal, had a golden opportunity to pass strong healthcare legislation, to strengthen the New Deal programs, and to guide the nation. Carter’s first two years consisted of a congressional supermajority, and by all accounts, Democrats were supposed to reconcile their differences and make good on their many promises. But it was not to be; Capitol Hill and the White House soon grew further apart than even the post-convention Kennedy-Carter divide suggested, and Democratic hopes were thoroughly dashed by Reagan’s counter-populism in the 1980 election, cementing a popular far-right agenda that led to twelve years of Republican dominance. The significance of the current trajectory, therefore, cannot be overstated. If Trump fails to pass at least portions of two of the Republican party’s big three promises- healthcare repeal, infrastructure spending, and tax reform- he will bring his party limping into a midterm that could see their house majority evaporate. While Carter came into power with a larger advantage (a supermajority consists of at least 60 votes, while a simple majority is at least 51), he still managed to lose 4 seats in his midterms as Americans grew tired of uncertainty and incompetency as a common praxis. President Trump also seems unlikely to move toward serious compromise- despite a few recent efforts with Democrats, as he has often complained of the Senate filibuster which he says “must go” and, were his attention sufficiently shifted back to the concerns of the Republican Congress, could in fact be finished for good.
However, the political repercussions of these rule changes would be enormous, especially if Republicans were to try to force such rules on the country before the midterms. The damage that would be done to his cause and his country would likely be worse than if he had simply blundered his way on, as he is doing now. On the other side of the aisle, the progressive blue wave that has been building steam with 17 cosponsors to Bernie Sander’s Medicare for All bill, would deftly maneuver a weakened candidate Trump in 2020. Every moment this ‘great negotiator’ along with the party that pledged to set things right once President Obama was finished, fails to make progress serves as more and more hard evidence to the country why a democratic government would be best. If Trump continues to blunder on, he would face a grim reelection: with little power in congress, with no border wall set up, with his base disillusioned. Trump would face a clobbering the likes we haven’t seen since Carter or Mondale v. Reagan (funny how well this analogy works).
One other point to consider when imagining the future of the political parties and their various movements is that of national security. Trump has been the law and order politician since he announced his campaign, which gives him, as it always has for Republicans, a distinct ‘tough guy’ advantage. If he could push already hawkish Republicans to go to war or stoke the fears of undocumented immigrants, he could theoretically scare the nation so much that any democrat attempting a challenge would have to situate her or himself to the far right on the military, just when the Democratic base is becoming more and more anti-war. Trump, who has tweeted ominous remarks about such plans, could use his general-stacked administration as a shield to any criticism for a hawkish or interventionist plan in either the middle east or on the Korean peninsula. Either way you slice it, President Trump is in a pickle, and Republicans are going to have to deliver on their promises soon, because they won’t have anywhere near as weak of a candidate as Hillary Clinton to face off against in the next time around.
JAMES CALABRESI ’20