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March 29th, 2017

Insight

Unfolding intrigue among Capitol Hill Dems

Andrew Malcolm

By Andrew Malcolm McClatchy Washington Bureau/(TNS)

Published Nov. 29, 2016

Unfolding intrigue among Capitol Hill Dems

How quickly times change in this remarkable year. In early November, much of the public discussion was hand-wringing over how divided Republicans would have to rebuild their shattered party after the crushing disaster of Donald Trump's almost-certain Nov. 8 defeat.

Turns out, at the end of November the reconstruction recriminations, struggles and talking points are on the other party's teleprompter. It's the GOP's time for change to believe in. Will those hopes be fulfilled, especially regarding the Supreme Court?

In addition to the White House and both houses of Congress, the GOP will soon control 34 governorships and more state legislative seats than in its entire 162-year history. Not to mention, the all-important presidential bully pulpit, which Trump is already using eight weeks before his inauguration.

The Democratic Party, those scattered dots of blue mostly along the coasts, is in political reality no longer a national party.

The Democratic Party, those scattered dots of blue mostly along the coasts, is in political reality no longer a national party. Its Rust Belt loyalists abandoned the status quo, leftist campaign of Hillary Clinton, whether in disgust over her scandals, the party's direction or President Barack Obama's empty economic leadership. Or maybe they fell for the blow-up-the-Washington-establishment appeal of Trump.

After leading House Democrats for 14 years and four straight disappointing elections, 76-year-old Nancy Pelosi is caught in a leadership challenge by Tim Ryan. He's an Ohio Rust Belt representative 30 years younger representing the kind of generational change that elevated the GOP's Paul Ryan to the speaker's job just last year.

Pelosi's deputies are all in their mid-70s too. She has raised a lot of money for colleagues over the years and done a lot of favors. And she has Obama's outspoken support, for what that's worth in his waning White House days. So, even with secret ballots, Pelosi may well prevail in the leadership contest - this time.

What's clear, however, is Democrats face some lonely times in the powerless congressional minority these next two years, with serious looming challenges for holding even those Senate seats in 2018.

Now, to be sure, in America's dynamic democracy with a fickle and inattentive electorate, that can change fairly rapidly.

When the GOP's Barry Goldwater got annihilated in the 1964 presidential election, Republicans bemoaned their party's future. Just 48 months later, however, Republican Richard Nixon won. And the same just happened after the GOP's 2012 loss.

It will take some time to calm fears about Trump's personality.

Twenty years after Goldwater, Democrat Walter Mondale was destroyed by Ronald Reagan in history's worst electoral landslide ever; Mondale won but one state. And just four years after that debacle Democrat Michael Dukakis went on to - oh, wait - lose again to Reagan's vice president, George H.W. Bush. That's the only time since World War II that American voters have given the same party three consecutive White House terms.

Trump's sharply focused presence in social media squabbles and sniper shots against perceived opponents since Nov. 8 could be a hopeful sign that, as he promised, he really will adopt a more presidential style in victory. It will take some time to calm fears about his personality.

So far, Trump's skilled arrangement of meetings and choreographed leaks present the image of a thoughtful chief executive reaching out to unite his party, to build strong ties to Congress and to assemble a smart administration in the short two months available to him. We should hear much more of his appointments before the holidays.

Not coincidentally, Trump's improved behavior also allowed considerable public focus to fall on Democrats wallowing in the understandable self-doubt and recriminations of their historic upset and defeats up and down the ballot.

Will Trump remain disciplined under Oval Office pressures? Will Washington's Republicans deliver sufficient change soon enough to assuage angry voters who gave them full control after six years of government gridlock? And will this enable the historically minority party of Lincoln to construct a new, enduring coalition of conservatives, independents and deserting Democrats?

That's the key to watch these next two years.

Andrew Malcolm
McClatchy Washington Bureau
(TNS)

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Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s.

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