Republicans won big Tuesday. Now, they must govern.
Donald Trump said it best after his stunning upset.
“It’s been what they call a historic event,” the real estate developer and reality TV star told supporters. “But to be really historic, we have to do a great job.”
Trump made the sale. Now, he must deliver on his big promises. Rather than just talk about how bad everything is, he must make things better.
The same goes for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. He pushed for a Republican takeover of the state House of Representatives, and Trump’s popularity helped him do it. Republicans now control the presidency, Congress and a majority of state governments, including every one in the South.
Republicans won largely by obstructing and demonizing Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, and Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominee, to a level not seen since the Civil War. Now, voters expect them to prove they can do a better job. Democrats must aggressively hold them accountable.
After years of sowing seeds of distrust against government’s very legitimacy, Republicans have made it hard for anyone to govern, including themselves.
Trump and Bevin have many similarities. They were businessmen with no prior government experience. They were anti-establishment candidates disdained by party leaders. Each faced an opponent who embodied major weaknesses of the Democratic Party.
How will Republican lawmakers enable and in some cases control these radical executives? Will the result be progress or disaster?
Here are some things to watch for in Washington:
▪ Trump set a conciliatory tone in his acceptance speech, especially for a man whose campaign rhetoric consisted mostly of insults, lies, xenophobia and misogyny. Trump is essentially an actor, and he is now in a different role. The question is how long he can stay in character.
▪ For all of Clinton’s vulnerabilities, Trump has closets full of skeletons. We still haven’t seen his tax returns. Will we ever? (We haven’t seen Bevin’s.) We still don’t know the extent of Trump’s conflicts of interest and business ties to Russia, the only foreign country that seems to be cheering his election. The investigations of Trump have not ended — they have just begun.
▪ Trump is a deal-maker, not an ideologue, which will give Republicans at least as much heartburn as Democrats. My hope — but it is little more than a hope — is that Trump can use his negotiating skills for the greater good.
▪ Will Senate Democrats copy Mitch McConnell’s uncompromising obstructionism? Who could blame them if they did, especially after McConnell violated historic precedent by refusing to even consider Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court this year. McConnell gambled that voters would blame gridlock on the party in the White House, and he was mostly right. Now, the roles are reversed.
And here are a few things to watch in Kentucky:
▪ Unlike Trump, Bevin was not gracious in victory, saying “good riddance” to House Speaker Greg Stumbo after his re-election defeat. How Bevin treats the General Assembly’s Democratic minority will be telling, especially since many of those Democrats represent Louisville and Lexington, the state’s economic engines.
▪ Expect Bevin and Republican legislators to quickly push through bills to weaken unions, create charter schools and further restrict abortion. Will they make any real difference? Probably not. Expect voters to look more closely at how Republicans balance the budget — what gets cut and who gets hurt. Everyone is for “fiscal responsibility” until it affects them.
▪ After all of their “war on coal” rhetoric, Republicans will be expected to revive Eastern Kentucky’s coal industry. Trump, a climate-change skeptic, promised to put thousands of Appalachian miners back to work. What happens when Kentuckians realize they have been lied to all along?