The 2016 presidential election has been one of the ugliest races in the nation’s political history, and its after-effects could be even worse.
No matter who wins on Tuesday, half the country will be angry.
And that’s just the beginning.
If Clinton wins, Republicans in Congress are already talking about years of investigations and even the possibility of impeachment.
Eyeing likely midterm gains, the GOP will have little incentive to cooperate on possible bipartisan compromises with a Democratic president.
If Trump wins, he’ll need to deal with a Democratic establishment that will be hoping to gain congressional seats in 2018 and make him a one-term president by 2020.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a Trump supporter, summed up the situation on Sunday.
“Tragically, we have drifted into an environment where if Hillary is elected, the criminal investigations will be endless,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And if Trump is elected … the opposition of the government employees will be so hostile and so direct and so immediate. … We are in for long, difficult couple of years, maybe a decade or more.”
In a normal campaign, the losing candidate offers a concession speech that seeks to unite the country in some way.
After this campaign, which some parents have shielded their children from due to the R-rated content, it’s anyone’s guess if that will happen.
Here’s a quick look back at the concession speeches of the last four presidential cycles:
Mitt Romney in 2012: “I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations. I wish all of them well, but particularly the president, the first lady and their daughters.”
John McCain in 2008: “In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, [Obama’s] success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.”
John Kerry in 2004:“Earlier today, I spoke to President Bush and I offered him and Laura our congratulations on their victory. We had a good conversation. And we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need, the desperate need, for unity for finding the common ground, coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing.”
Al Gore in 2000: “Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
The loser on Tuesday night would be wise to read these speeches, and mimic them.
Yet even if such a speech is given, there is likely to be little unity in Washington or in a divided country.
Here’s what is likely to happen.
If CLINTON WINS
Trump and his movement are not going silently into the night.
If Trump launches some kind of media enterprise, as has been widely expected, the Republican nominee would have a megaphone to go after his enemies — Democratic and Republican alike.
The first target could be Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has drawn the ire of Trump and his campaign chairman, former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon.
Bannon has talked of wanting to end Ryan’s career, and Trump, in an interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly last month, suggested Ryan wouldn’t be Speaker after the election.
Trump could urge GOP lawmakers to oppose Ryan for Speaker in January.
Such a move would put Republican lawmakers who represent pro-Trump districts in a very difficult position — and could conceivably make it tough for Ryan to get to 218 votes in a floor election.
The 46-year-old Ryan has no obvious successor. If Ryan isn’t the Speaker in 2017, the House could devolve into utter chaos.
Ryan on Friday said he will run for Speaker again, and he is well respected in his conference. But the path forward is far from certain. A year ago, 10 Republicans didn’t vote for Ryan, and that was before the feud between Trump and the 2012 vice presidential nominee started.
The 2020 fight will begin on Wednesday, and this will also complicate life for the new president and congressional leaders.
Ryan is one possible contender, though another two years as Speaker could kill his chances — that is, if he brokers budget deals with a Democratic president.
Clinton might face a primary challenge herself in 2020 if she is elected president.
Every one of her moves will be scrutinized by the left, which is emboldened by Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) strong showing in the Democratic primaries and the surging clout of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Advisers to both President George W. Bush and Obama worked hard to avoid a primary challenge. Clinton might not be able to.
IF TRUMP WINS
The mantra from Trump supporters is “lock her up,” and the GOP nominee has repeatedly promised he would throw Clinton in jail should he win.
That would make for a divisive and historic first 100 days.
Perhaps it is likely that a President Trump would defer to federal authorities and back away from the vow, but it won’t be easy.
As commander in chief, Trump would have to work with GOP leaders who publicly criticized him. And many Democrats would likely claim voter suppression led to Trump’s win and wouldn’t view him as a legitimate president.
Republican critics of Trump, including those in the Never Trump movement, wouldn’t be converted — at least not in the beginning of a Trump administration. Trump, like Clinton, would need to watch out for a primary challenge in 2020.
However, a President Trump would probably have the luxury of a Republican-led House and a GOP-controlled Senate. Under budget reconciliation rules, major legislation — such as repealing most of ObamaCare — could pass and be signed into law. Ramming such bills through the Senate, which only need a simple majority in the upper chamber, could make it easier for Democrats to unify against a President Trump.
ON THE OTHER HAND
A divisive four years seem like the best bet.
Yet both Trump and Clinton are dealmakers. Is it possible a winner could overcome this nasty campaign and put Washington to work?
Trump, who was a Democrat before running for president as a Republican, wrote a book titled “The Art of the Deal,” and most of his backers wouldn’t turn on him if he ironed out compromises with congressional Democrats.
Clinton worked well with GOP lawmakers when she served in the Senate and would make it a top priority to work more constructively with Congress than Obama did. Furthermore, Clinton insiders say the former secretary of State is better at governing than campaigning.
Both presidential hopefuls are open to compromise.
But the issue isn’t their willingness to strike a deal. It’s whether the opposing party would be willing to give the new president major victories. And whether the right or the left, would give their president a pass to find common ground.