In the wake of Donald Trump's victory last week, Republicans hold united control of the federal government for the first time since the Bush administration. With 51 or 52 seats in the Senate (depending on the results of the Louisiana senate runoff) and 241 of 435 House seats, it seems that the GOP is on pace to run government the way they want and enact a sweeping policy agenda.
But a major difficulty for the Republicans could be agreeing on that agenda. Trump ran on many positions that which upended the Republican establishment in ways that benefit working class whites, allowing him to win over a demographic that had historically voted Democratic. And now, the remaining Democrats in the Senate are planning a strategy that benefits those voters, and takes advantage of the split between the old GOP and the Trump version.
The New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer reported that Senate Democrats are planning a strategy that highlights points of agreement with Trump:
Mr. Trump campaigned on some issues that Democrats have long championed and Republicans resisted: spending more on roads, bridges and rail, punishing American companies that move jobs overseas, ending a lucrative tax break for hedge fund and private equity titans, and making paid maternity leave mandatory.
Some Democrats are even co-opting Mr. Trump’s language from the campaign. “Every single person in our caucus agrees the system is rigged,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan.
From my perspective, the embrace of aspects of Trump's agenda that conflict with the Republican one falls into what appears to be a Democratic strategy of winning back control in the next few years by returning to their roots as a party fighting for the working class and against control by the rich — a message that they were incapable of making even when they tried, due to Hillary Clinton's perceived closeness with the elite class.
This agenda could be backed up by leadership. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders will find themselves with greater power within the Democratic leadership in the next Senate. In the House, Rep. Tim Ryan, a union Democrat from Ohio, seems poised to possibly challenge Nancy Pelosi, who hails from from an affluent district in California's Bay Area.
A large segment of Trump's support came from those who felt they had missed out on the recovery in the wake of the Great Recession. He spent much of the campaign railing against Washington elites and trade deals, in addition to often blaming immigrants and minorities. For some, this message resonated, and there is real hope that Trump can bring economic prosperity back among those missing it.
But Trump's administration will be affected by its uneasy alliance with those very Washington elites he defied. The early reports on his economic team suggest it will be heavily influenced by big business and finance. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans' agenda seems to be diametrically opposed to the promises Trump made. So the Democrats are promising to try to help Trump on the issues that they and his voters support. But my sense is they're probably betting he'll fail, and are getting ready to catch the support of those who reject him.