I was wrong.
Right after Donald Trump won the presidency and the GOP successfully held onto both the House and Senate, I predicted that Republicans would move swiftly to enact a sharply conservative agenda similar to what happened in the first few months of Gov. Pat McCrory’s tenure in North Carolina. By this time in the Trump presidency, I expected to see passage of a slew of bills turning back progressive policies that have been in place for decades and introducing new policies that would take the country on a hard right turn. It hasn’t happened.
Why? I underestimated the split within the Republican Party, especially in the House of Representatives. Dismantler of Senate Mitch McConnell is less of a leader than an obstructionist and his hardball tactics to diminish the Senate have built ill-will even among Republicans. Donald Trump has caused the GOP far more trouble than I anticipated. And finally, love them or hate them, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer have proven to be strong leaders who have held their caucuses together.
The Freedom Caucus, led by North Carolina’s own Rep. Mark Meadows, has proven to be a thorn in the side of Republicans who want accomplishments more than gridlock. They stalled the GOP’s original attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, demanding a much more conservative version that would kick more people off of Medicaid. These folks brought down former Speaker John Boehner and will put ideology above pragmatism every time. Look for them to gum up the works over the upcoming tax reform battle.
Mitch McConnell has done more damage to the institution of the Senate than any Majority Leader in decades. As Minority Leader, he abused the rules to stop any progress in his failed attempt to make Barack Obama a one-term president. His continued abuse of power caught up with him when he used procedural moves to circumvent the debate and deliberation that make the body great. John McCain stood up and said the process stank, sinking the misguided health care bill and leaving the Republicans with no major legislative victories six months into the Trump presidency.
As for Donald Trump, what can you say? Who would have thought that he would try to run the presidency by twitter? He’s unwittingly sabotaged his own agenda and inflamed controversies instead of stifling them. His approval ratings are so abysmal that Republicans in potentially competitive races in 2018 are trying to distance themselves from him. He’s probably done as much to stall GOP success as any single factor.
Democrats, for their part, have shown discipline in their opposition to Republican policies. They stood united against the GOP attempts to dismantle Obamacare and Chuck Shumer and Nancy Pelosi have proven their mettle as leaders. Pelosi, despite the disdain that both the left and right hold for her, has shown that she knows how to present a united front with no public squabbling to disrupt legislative business. She pushed through Obamacare as Speaker despite huge obstacles and now she’s holding her caucus to protect it. Shumer, who’s new in his role as Minority Leader, has reached out to members of all ideologies to keep people focused on goals and not divisions.
Things could still get bad. With John Kelly as White House Chief of Staff, we’re about to find out if it’s possible to discipline Trump. Maybe McConnell and company are going to be able to ram through a sweeping tax reform program without a lot of rancor. I’ll believe both when I see them.