The Pew Research Center's postelection voter survey has found that nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65 percent) — and 39 percent of all voters — want the opposition party to “stand up” to President-elect Donald Trump, “even if less gets done in Washington.” As the minority party studies the aftermath of the 2004 and 2008 elections for clues on how to stage a comeback, Pew's numbers suggest that there is more enthusiasm for opposition to Trump than to any recently elected president.
According to Pew's 2008 polling, just 36 percent of Republican voters, and 22 percent of all voters, said that their party should oppose the incoming President Obama if it meant slowing down the work of the country. In 2008, just 11 percent of Democrats said they wanted Republicans to be a check on the president; last week, 14 percent of Republicans said that they wanted Democrats to be a check on Trump.
In 2009, the Republicans obliged the minority — though, tellingly, they were slow to make clear what they were doing. In November 2008, at a similar point in Obama's transition, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strategically praised Obama's more bipartisan Cabinet hires and suggested that he could pass a crisis agenda through Congress quickly if he did not run to the left.
“This is an opportunity to tackle big issues and to do them in the middle,” McConnell said at a lame-duck news conference in 2008. “It would not be a good idea for the new administration, in my view, to go down a laundry list of left-wing proposals and try to jam them through the Congress.”
In January, as the Obama White House prioritized the passage of a massive stimulus spending plan, McConnell continued to suggest that Republicans want to help him pass it — especially a component that consisted of a large tax cut. “Depending upon how this tax component is crafted,” McConnell said, “it could well have broad Republican appeal and make it much more likely that the measure passes with broad bipartisan support, which is what the new president would like and what we would like.”
In the end, McConnell offered nearly no bipartisan cover at all. Just three Senate Republicans backed the stimulus package, which had been shaped to attract bipartisan support; no House Republicans supported it. In 2010, McConnell told journalist Joshua Green that the Republicans avoided any buy-in with Obama's bills to deny any appearance of bipartisanship.
“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought — correctly, I think — that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”
Democrats now seem to be heading for a similar showdown. In their first comments after the election, Democratic leaders such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Senate Minority Leader-elect Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they were open to dealing with Trump on big projects. But in an interview published this weekend in the New York Times, Schumer clarified that Democrats would deal with Trump only if he met them on their goals.
“We are saying, ‘Mr. President you have two choices: Work with us and you will have to alienate your Republican colleagues, or break your promises to blue-collar America,’ ” he said. “I believe that blue-collar America voted for Trump mainly because of Democratic issues like trade, not for Republican issues like tax cuts for the wealthy.”
Like McConnell in 2008, Schumer seemed to be laying the groundwork for near-total opposition of Trump bills, on the assumption that Republicans will not embrace deficit spending.