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This Changes Everything

Pretty much everyone thought Hillary Clinton would be the president-elect right now. As a result, few spent much time gaming out the scenario we find ourselves in: next year, Donald Trump will be the president, accompanied by a Republican (though not filibuster-proof) Senate and a solidly GOP House.

I’m as guilty as anyone. My last pre-election column [1] was about what President Clinton would do to the Supreme Court. A month ago I tried to find [2] Obamacare tweaks that Republicans could demand in exchange for helping to fix the law, because only a moron would think anything more dramatic might be possible.

So here’s an attempt to atone for my sins and outline the possibilities for a Trump presidency in a number of domestic-policy areas.

The Supreme Court


Trump promised to nominate a conservative to replace the late Antonin Scalia, and the possibilities he floated were well-received on the right. Assuming he keeps his promise, the only thing standing in the way is a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

Problem is, Democrats eliminated the filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominations back in 2013 via the “nuclear option”—setting a precedent that could easily be followed in a second bombing mission, this time directed at nominations for the high court. And to up the temptation, just weeks ago Tim Kaine was mouthing off [3] about how Democrats were already prepping the nuke. “If these guys think they’re going to stonewall the filling of that [Scalia] vacancy or other vacancies, then a Democratic Senate majority will say, ‘We’re not going to let you thwart the law,’” he said.

(It is not thwarting the law to stonewall a nomination.)

Unless they wimp out—a possibility that should not be discounted [4]—Republicans are going to grab that bomb and set it off right in the Democrats’ faces, to the immense enjoyment of conservatives everywhere. Any Trump nominee acceptable to Senate Republicans will be confirmed, both to replace Scalia and in the event that another justice retires or passes away during the time Republicans have the Senate and the presidency.

In that case, everything I wrote last week is the opposite of reality. With Anthony Kennedy as the swing justice once again, there will be more victories for the conservative legal movement. And if Kennedy or a liberal justice is replaced with a conservative as well, some might get their hopes up about bigger wins, like overturning Roe v. Wade.


Here the politics are less straightforward. Obamacare has some highly popular provisions that cannot work without its other elements or some replacement for them. The ban on discrimination against those with preexisting conditions is a prime example—by itself, it would encourage people to wait until they got sick to sign up for insurance, setting off the dreaded “death spiral.”

And as with the Supreme Court, the Senate filibuster is an obstacle to any move Republicans might want to make. To get around this, the GOP has a few options: (1) pass the bill through the budget “reconciliation” process; (2) kill the filibuster for legislation too, not just nominations, which would be a drastic step; or (3) find some other creative workaround [5].

They already did a dry run of the first approach, sending a (predictably vetoed) repeal bill to President Obama. There’s an important limitation, though: only the parts of the law that affect the budget can be changed through the reconciliation process. The law’s insurance regulations, for instance, would still stand [6].

Another major question is whether to replace the law immediately, or sunset it gradually while a replacement is hammered out. Considering there’s some intra-party disagreement about how to replace Obamacare, and considering no one has actual legislative language handy, the second option seems wise.

(Both Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan do have health-care plans outlined, though. Like most conservative health-care plans, these are attempts to combine flexible subsides with consumer choice and deregulation to provide coverage at an affordable cost.)

A note of caution will hang over the proceedings. Democrats passed Obamacare with zero Republican support, twisting the rules to avoid a filibuster after the election of Scott Brown. By the time problems with the law started cropping up, Republicans had gained some power back and refused to help fix the mess. If Republicans do what Democrats did in 2009 and 2010, Democrats will respond the way Republicans did when the tables turn once again.


Here’s an area where conservatives—at least conservatives in the “budget hawk” sense, as opposed to the “cut taxes and stick our kids with the tab” sense—should be worried. Trump’s tax plan [7] involved trillions of dollars of tax cuts targeted at the rich, with nowhere near enough spending cuts to pay for them.

With most of Trump’s more harebrained ideas, we can hope that he’ll back off a bit, that new advisors will be more serious (or influential) than the ones he listened to (or didn’t) during the campaign, or that Republicans in Congress won’t send him a bill to sign. But Republicans love irresponsible tax cuts. They can’t help themselves. It will be a combination of sad and ironic if a signature achievement of a populist movement is to cut taxes for the rich.


This is one of those areas where we can expect Trump to back off of his campaign rhetoric a bit. Mass deportations and a ban on Muslim immigration won’t likely become a reality.

We could certainly see, however, a variety of real reforms that have been held up for years by a Washington consensus that the American people don’t share: things like more border fencing (which was already supposed to be built under a 2006 law [8]), an end to “deferred action” (accomplished through mere executive action to begin with), stronger enforcement against employers who hire illegal workers, reduced levels of low-skill immigration, and enhanced (even extreme!) vetting [9] of immigrants from regions especially likely to send us terrorists.

A silver lining for immigration supporters: getting the illegal-immigration problem under control could eventually make it easier to amnesty those already here.


Rust Belt states hammered by free trade voted for Trump, and they will reap the policy rewards starting on day one [10]. Phil Levy put it well [11] in Foreign Policy: by now, “President Barack Obama once hoped to have completed both Atlantic and Pacific trade deals, as well as a Bilateral Investment Treaty with China. It now appears he will conclude none of these.” Trump also would like to renegotiate NAFTA and pursue China more aggressively for unfair trade practices.

All of this just scratches the surface. Trump’s election completely changes the picture, from climate-change and energy efforts to criminal-justice reform. The electorate’s decision may prove right or wrong, but that it’s exciting is undeniable.

Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative. Follow @RAVerBruggen [12]

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "This Changes Everything"

#1 Comment By collin On November 14, 2016 @ 9:23 am

My biggest question for Republicans is how is Trump going to implement trade changes. I know everybody loves big steel mills that employ thousands but these are things of past. However, the steel employment is less than 55,000 so an increase of steel production of 10 – 20% means we would be lucky to see an employment increase of 5,000. With 150M workers, that is drops in the bucket and now steel is 15% higher in price.

And now all infrastructure and construction will be 3% higher in price. Can you imagine how many jobs that will impact?

#2 Comment By William Springer On November 14, 2016 @ 3:10 pm

Rust Belt states hammered by free trade have actually been more hammered by automation. When those jobs don’t return but we have 35% tariffs raising the cost of a vast number of goods, the Rust Belt states, and every other state, will be much worse off.

Fortunately, there is evidence already that this statement was a mere campaign ploy (like building a wall, deporting them all with a deportment force, banning Muslims, special prosecutor for Hillary, getting rid of all Obamacare, etc.), with Wilbur Ross stating in an interview the goal isn’t to get rid of trade agreements but negotiate to lower the trade deficit (using examples tried by every president, like getting Asian countries to buy cotton from us).

It is fortunate, as stomping free trade would decimate the economy and act as a form or welfare, by instituting higher costs on everyone to bring a few (but nowhere near as many as before automation) jobs with salaries that are dwarfed by the amount of the cost to consumers.

But you know all this…this is Milton Friedman, this is basic conservative economic thought that has been accepted by the mainstream conservatives forever and only criticized by (wrongfully and through emotion rather than a conservative thoughtful analysis) by radical winds of the conservative movement, such as one of this forums founders. There is no benefit to the country as a whole economically from any limit to free trade. Even without considering all the other side effects (permitting other powers to become hegemonic by leading trade platforms, creating animosity toward the US, removing soft power of having our goods being exported), protectionism is a losing choice for the country as a whole. To assume that is our only choice to help small groups hurt by free trade merely evidences an obstinant refusal to even attempt to consider any alternatives.

#3 Comment By Rossbach On November 14, 2016 @ 3:19 pm

“…getting the illegal-immigration problem under control could eventually make it easier to amnesty those already here.”

Allowing immigration scofflaws to keep what they broke the law to obtain (i.e., permanent US residency) would subvert any attempt to control illegal immigration, just as it did with IRCA in 1986 . Amnesty was a bad idea then and it’s a worse idea now.

#4 Comment By David Naas On November 14, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

Governance. Such a different world from being an irresponsible grandstander to the “Base”.

I wish them all well.

And, since I became thoroughly disgusted with both major political parties years ago and registered as an independent (to hell with the vanity… err… “Third” Parties), I am sitting back sipping Jameson and munching popcorn while all the smart people sort things out.

As the saying goes in the antique stores, “You broke it, you bought it.”

#5 Comment By Wayne Lusvardi On November 15, 2016 @ 10:44 am

This article is totally blind to the local economy that has been obliterated by the global economy. We once had a Virtuous Economy where the elderly saved money in banks and earned 6% on a CD; and in turn, that money was lent to young families to buy homes and start businesses. It was virtuous because it recycled money between generations and needed cultural values like saving, hard work, ingenuity and a profit motive.

Conversely, a Global Economy requires that capital be diverted into stocks and bonds and away from local banks. The vehicle for doing this is zero interest rates. This creates asset bubbles in stocks and commodities especially real estate. And it shifts cultural values from saving, hard work and profit motivation to earning money from contrive economic bubbles, arbitraging and gaming the system.

The working class can’t afford homes under a Global Economy so they were thrown a bone of sub prime loans, that decimated their families with foreclosures, bankruptcies, divorces and substance abuse.

What “made America great” was a pluralistic economy that was both Globalist and Localist. What needs to be restored is “free trade” at the local level. But a Global Economy forces everyone into a one-size-fits-all system that only benefits those along the “Left Coasts” and abandons the “fly over country”.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On November 15, 2016 @ 1:57 pm

I don’t think there is any question, the economic changes must be incremental. There are so many factors involved that the most important tool is time. The adjustments advocated will require deep structural changes.

There is no way to entirely end terminate global trade, there’s always been international trade. But there are ways of managing it’s impact such that we are not on the losing end – less is more.

As for intervention, that can and should be a almost immediate realignment – less is more.

Immigration, it’s fairly simple, if you are here illegally, you must go. There is no fault in limiting or terminating immigration from regions in which we been killing and reeking havoc. I think the vetting issue is appropriate and makes sense.

#7 Comment By Myron Hudson On November 15, 2016 @ 7:48 pm

This article doesn’t touch energy but I can tell you from being close to/in the industry The big energy players have already walked away from coal and won’t walk back. They see where the real growth in the energy economy is, and it’s not in mountaintop removal.

Aside from that, as Willam Springer points out, jobs that were lost to automation won’t come back either (read: logging).

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On November 20, 2016 @ 1:33 am

“The big energy players have already walked away from coal and won’t walk back.”

Industries rise and fall for many reasons people still need energy. To the extent that coal can provide it, it will survive. One of the huge mistakes made in assessing business is that big business is the mainstay of the economy. Wall Street yields a lot of weight yet according to Forbes the current WS model is costing the US more than 300 billion annually. I love WS and I am fond of capitalism. I am less fond of the excuses not hold them accountable for mistakes.

I don’t know enough about the coal industry to hazard a guess as to what level the can provide some comeback, but if people can make a living from it, I am disinclined to attack the business as have democrats for the last several decades.