The First Two Years Of The Trump Presidency – An Historical Counterfactual

At the end of the first week of August 2016, Hillary Clinton had a solid 7 point lead in the various polling averages. Democrats began to envision a new era of Progressive reform with a Clinton Presidency and a Democratic Congress. Republicans were in a state of despair and panic.  Some Republican leaders even began to contemplate abandoning Trump and using their resources to maintain a GOP controlled Congress.

In response to this tailspin, Trump’s children staged an intervention led by Donald Trump, Jr.  Trump’s son emphasized to his father that it was still relatively early and he had plenty of time to stage a comeback.  The GOP nominee took the intervention seriously and promised to raise his game.

The first thing Trump did was to fire the rank amateurs who had been running his campaign and replaced them with veterans from the Presidential campaigns of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.  Fundraising improved, a campaign organization began to form in the battleground states and professionally produced ads began to flood the airwaves.

A new and more disciplined Trump emerged on the campaign trail.  With certain rare exceptions, Trump stuck to the script and avoided stupid comments.  The orange hued mogul doggedly stuck to the theme that unfair trade deals and illegal immigration caused middle class wages to stagnate or otherwise grow too slowly.  At the same time, rumors were circulated that Trump had begun to take psychotropic drugs to control his mood swings.

Trump also followed his campaign manager’s advice and refused to debate Clinton.  It was apparent to his new staff that there was no way Trump could stay on message during three unscripted debates.  The Democrats and the press reacted with outrage but this episode was soon forgotten and rarely mentioned again.

The new Trump closed the gap with Clinton and only trailed by about three points by mid-October.  Ominously, about two weeks before election day, pro-Trump Super PACs emerged in the battleground states and began to out spend the Democrats by a 2-1 ratio.  In light of Trump’s improved behavior, the Koch brothers got off the sidelines and poured immense amounts of money into the campaign.  Moreover, there were rumors that the GOP Super PACs were spending laundered money from Putin’s oligarchs in Russia.

By election day, the polls indicated the race was too close to call.  Election day itself was marked by massive Republican voter suppression in the battleground states.  Millions of potential Democratic voters were turned away at the polls since many of the GOP governors in the battleground states had purged them from the voter rolls.

By the morning after the election, Clinton led Trump 46.5% to 46% in the national popular vote.  (Johnson got 5% and Stein 2%.)  Clinton led 266 to 252 in the electoral vote but Ohio’s twenty electoral votes were up for grabs since the election in the Buckeye state was too close to call.

Clinton narrowly won the legally required automatic recount but the Republicans falsely alleged massive fraud in the recount. The Ohio legislature passed a law declaring that Trump had carried Ohio and awarded him that state’s 20 electoral votes. The GOP controlled House of Representatives – which passes on the electoral votes – gave Trump Ohio’s 20 electoral votes and declared him to be the 45th President of the U.S.

President Trump was quick to claim a mandate and argued that John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush “did not scale back their agenda after winning a razor thin majority.”  Trump and the Republican Congress’ first order of business was a massive omnibus budget bill that was going to be passed with 51 votes in the Senate using the same budget reconciliation rules that the GOP decried during the Obama Presidency.

The new President’s budget bill combined his $10 trillion tax which mainly benefited the wealthy,  the Ryan budget which privatized Medicare and had huge cuts in programs for the poor,  the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a GOP replacement plan.   Non-partisan economists warned this budget plan had the potential to send the economy into recession since it would blow up the deficit and kick 20 million Americans off their health insurance policies.

The most divisive debate over Trump’s omnibus budget bill occurred in the House.  When the omnibus budget bill  was brought to the House for a vote, members were given less than one day to read the 850-page bill, a violation of House rules. Moreover, House Speaker Paul Ryan held the vote open for a record three hours  while attempting to change the outcome — through intimidation and other tactics that, again, violated House rules.   For example, one House member was promised a campaign donation of $100,000 from the health insurance industry if he voted for Trump’s budget package.

After the Trump budget passed by one vote, the Democrats hollered “shame” and condemned the bullying tactics used to pass the bill.  One long time House veteran said: “I’ve been in politics for 22 years and it was the ugliest day I have ever seen in 22 years.” Prominent political scientist Norm Ornstein contended: “The political process used to pass the Trump omnibus budget was the worst abuse of the legislative process I have seen during my many years studying Congress.”

The real world impact of the newly passed budget were immediate and catastrophic.  After the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office forecast $1 trillion annual deficits as far as the eye can see, the stock market collapsed and lost as much ground as it did in the dark days of 2008-09.  After twenty million Americans lost their health insurance coverage, emergency rooms were overwhelmed by sick and desperate Americans.  Hospitals and insurance companies were required to lay off thousands of employees after the repeal of Obama Care.  The economy went into a recession in October 2017.

The Congress did stand up to Trump on the immigration issue.  A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans blocked funding for Trump’s wall and plan to deport 11 million aspiring Americans.  In addition, that same coalition bottled up Trump’s plan to raise tariffs on imports from Mexico and China.

Even though the Republicans had relentlessly attacked Obama’s executive orders,  most of them approved Trump’s executive order to ban all Muslim entry into the U.S.  The ACLU immediately filed suit and asked for an injunction.  That request was denied by a Trump appointed federal judge.

America’s allies in the Middle East were outraged by Trump’s executive order on Muslim entry into the U.S.  Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates retaliated by cutting off diplomatic relations with the U.S and terminated intelligence sharing with the C.I.A. and the U.S. military.

Trump was enraged by the response of our allies in the Middle East to his Muslim entry executive order and falsely contended that they were providing aide and comfort to ISIS.  The President dispatched 30,000 ground troops to Iraq to fight ISIS and said it was justified by our allies’ “disloyalty.”  Those 30,000 troops came under immediate attack from Iraqi insurgents and the U.S. was once again bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq.  Trump more than doubled down on his intervention and sent an additional 70,000 troops to Iraq in early 2018.

Perhaps Trump’s most reckless decision was to repudiate President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.  Trump contended the U.S. would get a “better deal.” The Iranians refused to negotiate and resumed – and even accelerated – their nuclear program. Trump soon came under immense pressure from the GOP’s neo-cons and the right wing media to attack Iran.

On the morning of March 18, 2018, President Trump announced in a speech from the Oval Office that he had commenced bombing Iran to end it’s nuclear program.  Trump said: “There is no doubt that Iran now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt they are amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.  America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

Several weeks of mass bombing raids followed that Oval Office announcement.  Thousands of innocent Iranian civilians were killed and experts said that the bombing raids would only delay Iran’s nuclear program for five years.  In contrast, Obama’s nuclear deal put off the Iranian nuclear program for 10 to 15 years.

The Iranians responded to the bombing raids by blocking the Straits of Hormuz – through which a large portion of the world’s oil supply is transported.  There were huge gas shortages around the world and the price of gas quickly shot up to $10 per gallon.  Trumps’ U.S. recession was transformed into a world wide economic Depression.

By the fall of 2018, Trump’s approval ratings had slumped to a low of 18% – a level lower than Nixon during the Watergate scandal and Bush after the economic collapse of 2008.  A Democratic wave was forming and the opposition party was heavily favored to make huge gains in the mid-term elections.

As it turned out, the Democrats regained control of the Congress when they picked up 70 House seats and 12 Senate seats. The election results were a massive repudiation of Trump and his GOP allies.  The scope of the sweep was so wide that Dennis P. Crawford was the first Democrat to take the House seat in Nebraska CD01 since the LBJ landslide of 1964.

By early 2019, Presidential contenders began to organize their campaigns and to visit early caucus and primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.  On the Republican side, Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse were the early favorites.  The leading Democratic contenders were Elizabeth Warren and Tim Kaine.

The scenario I have laid out is very plausible and could very well happen.  We must not get complacent or over confident. The Republicans still have access to unlimited campaign cash and are good at attacking.  We Democrats must take nothing for granted.  We must continue to work hard for our ticket and leave it all on the field.  Now let’s get it done!  I know we can do it!