In the aftermath of the presidential election, a strange revisionism is taking shape in Washington. House Speaker Paul Ryan breezily suggested in a post-election press conference that, come Jan. 20, Hill Republicans will start running full speed ahead on a robust congressional GOP agenda.
But Ryan and his cohorts overlook that the recent election hardly presented a mandate for GOP “business as usual.” In fact, what voters actually signaled was a repudiation of both President Obama’s policies and recent congressional Republican priorities.
He will soon become president, and the Democrats will face two options: either they’ll gain absolutely nothing from a Trump administration, or they’ll make common cause.
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Yes, when Trump first enters office, he’ll need to lean heavily on the Republican leadership for guidance. But House and Senate veterans shouldn’t assume Trump will reciprocate with a blank check.
In fact, a look at Trump’s key goals suggests a striking compatibility with congressional Democrats on several key issues. Ironically, it’s the same crossover areas wherein Trump supporters found themselves agreeing with portions of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ agenda:
It is Trump and the Democrats who first opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
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It is Trump and the Democrats who oppose automatically signing free trade deals without regard to how the details impact American workers.
It is Trump and the Democrats who favor a large package of infrastructure investment.
It is Trump and the Democrats who favor Buy America preferences for domestic procurement.
It is Trump and the Democrats who oppose a predisposition toward U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
The list goes on — with Sanders already signaling his willingness to work with Trump on trade and jobs; with Trump signaling he will not fight a culture war against progressives, waving an LGBT flag at an October rally in Colorado and railing against ISIS’ bloody persecution of suspected gay people. Trump has also questioned the need for U.S. military bases stationed in far-flung corners of the world.
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Yes, Trump can be abrasive. And yes — he has, at times, offended millions of Americans. But he will soon become president, and the Democrats will face two options: either they’ll gain absolutely nothing from a Trump administration, or they’ll make common cause to achieve several shared goals.
It’s noteworthy that congressional Republicans supported President Obama on TPP, and would happily support any other free trade deals coming down the pike. But Trump wants to shift away from automatic approval of such job-killing agreements. Similarly, Trump is concerned with China’s currency manipulation and steel dumping — two mercantilist practices that hardly trouble the GOP’s free-trading faithful.
And then there’s the GOP’s commitment to tight purse strings — which could potentially block any large infrastructure investment. However, Trump has already floated a $550 billion infrastructure package. Notably, the job-creation aspects of such investment could be boosted exponentially through strong Buy America preferences. But again, the “anti-protectionist” wing of the GOP might stymie such domestic procurement efforts.
Part of what got Donald Trump elected is a palpable national sense that America’s middle class is faltering. And so, it seems logical that repairing thousands of bridges, highways, and waterworks — with American-made steel and concrete — would prove a popular proposal. At present, U.S. manufacturing is treading on fumes, and Democrats, backed by their industrial union compatriots, have been urging exactly this sort of government-funded spending program for some time.
If the media flat-out missed the looming Trump groundswell, they also underestimated the truly desperate straits in which steel, mining, and factory workers now find themselves. Likewise, the actions of the congressional GOP have belied any serious attempts to save domestic manufacturing, thanks to a longstanding adherence to failed “free trade.”
So, as Trump brings his trade, infrastructure, and Buy American proposals to Congress, he’ll likely need the open-minded support of various Democrats. And since job creation should be top-of-mind for Washington, Democrats should make common cause with Trump. While many of them may loathe the man, they ought to help him push through precisely the measures that Republican stalwarts have often opposed — or face further backlash from middle-class Americans.
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The author of this piece served as a media director for various organizations.