Could this year’s election revive the First Branch?

Candidate Trump with signed agreement

Donald J. Trump had a pretty super Super Tuesday. He won more delegates than any other Republican contender and his lead has expanded considerably. Final results are still not in from all contests, but the model put together by The New York Times blog The Upshot has Trump picking up about 241 delegates, to 223 for Sen. Ted Cruz, 111 for Sen. Marco Rubio, 18 for Gov. John Kasich and just three for Dr. Ben Carson.  Undeniably, Trump is the front-runner and his odds of nabbing enough delegates to claim the nomination are high.

Leaving aside the relative merits of the candidate himself and the platform he espouses, one interesting prism through which to view a potential Trump presidency, which would be unprecedented in so many ways, is what effect it could have on our basic institutions of governance. Namely, might it provide Congress with the political incentives to rebuild itself?

Our national legislature, as observers on the right, left, and center have detailed, has willingly and voluntarily diminished itself in recent decades. Congress regularly has delegated its constitutional authorities to the executive. But the arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW of a relatively uncompromising outsider whom lawmakers mistrust just might reverse that trend.

For his part, Trump may have provided a preview of the kinds of relations he intends to have with Congress during last night’s victory speech, when he said of the speaker of the House:

Paul Ryan, I don’t know him well, but I’m sure I’m going to get along great with him, and if I don’t– he’s gonna have to pay a big price.

Mind you, that’s what he says about the man who would be the second-most-powerful figure of his own party. It’s probably fair to say this sort of approach likely wouldn’t go down well in Congress as a whole.

Even more than other recent presidents, President Trump could have great difficulty assembling a cooperative caucus. Democrats would have obvious reasons not to embrace him, and it remains unclear just how many Republicans will fall in line. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., had pledged that he will not support Trump as a nominee under any circumstances and would even leave the party if Trump prevails. That’s just one data point, but it’s clear such sentiments are being discussed broadly by party leaders.

All of which could mean two things. First, perhaps we will see an end to congressional majorities’ recent quasi-parliamentary behavior of dutifully carrying the president’s water (see Barack Obama’s Democratic Congress of 2009 to 2011 and George W. Bush’s Republican Congress of 2005 to 2007). Again, it’s not clear that Trump would be viewed by many members of Congress or the public as a “Republican,” as that label has come to be understood. On Capitol Hill, he could well be seen as an “enemy,” as his executive actions and legislative proposals might antagonize Democrats and Republicans alike.

And this brings up a second and related point: the incentives for the majorities and minorities in the two chambers to savage each other in hopes of triumphing in the next election might decline. Should the president be a figure with whom neither party wants to bargain, Congress would have little choice but to pull together and assert its Article I powers, or be steamrolled. The only person guaranteed to win if Congress continued to bicker in its usual way would be the president. This would leave the parties in a prisoner’s dilemma, but one that could be solved through cooperative action.

There are those who fear the prospect of a Trump presidency, but talk of his being a “threat to democracy” is overwrought. The U.S. Constitution grants Congress wide powers to check an imperious executive, including, in the extreme, impeachment. Perhaps a Trump victory in November’s election would even be the spark to ignite Congress to behave like the forceful, responsible legislature intended by the Founders.

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  • Luigi Valentino

    Ben Sasse,

    What you and none of your useless cohorts will ever understand is what your job entails. You are a representative of the people for the people and by the people. And if the MAJORITY support Donald Trump than your JOB is to support him as well. Your ignorant personal position is just that…YOUR opinion. Trump supporters are tired of your politics as usual. If you would have done your jobs and defended this country vs. rolling over and cow towing to the current “King” this country would not be in need of a revolutionary Republican. It staggers me that you cannot comprehend what the people want and you have neither the mentality or work history to tell ANY of us differently. Good riddance to Obama and the rest of you USELESS Republicans!

    Also, don’t ever claim to speak for all of Nebraska. You can speak for your grocer, the Jesus freaks at your church and the products of incest you call family. Do not ever claim to speak for me.

    Finally, your resistance better turn to acceptance because Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States of America. If you don’t like it pack your bags and leave with Miley Cyrus, Al Sharpton, Whoopi Goldberg and Rosie O’Donnel. Bring your Dick sucking partner Mitt Romney too!

    • Why are you yelling at Ben Sasse? He didn’t write this post. And, by the way, if you look at polling data, maybe 20% f the whole American electorate prefers Trump. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, certainly not conservatives’ or libertarians’… or liberals’ for that matter… or Hispanics’… or….

      • Luigi Valentino

        Sasse is a worthless hack who will influence no one. He’s in bed (literally) with Mitt Romney. They have this “diabolically” plan for a Romney/Sasse ticket while they blow each other all the way to the White House. Sasse and Romney are trying to cause a ruckus in the republican primary leaving the race open to a third candidate. How F-ing delusional. Good Luck Woodchuck! Get your teeth fixed. You’re hurting Mitt’s c0ck.

      • Luigi Valentino

        BTW I know you wrote this article. Good job.

  • melech. Lema

    The world need Donald Trump to discipline wrong rulers Africa.Democrats are more sympathetic to them.


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