If Hillary Clinton Were President
A thought exercise
People who love Hillary Clinton might claim that everything in America would be fine if she were president. And people who hate her might claim that the country would be in even worse shape. But to me it’s much more interesting to try and imagine how things might actually look if Hillary Clinton had won. First let’s lay down some core insights based on objective truth rather than opinion.
Insight #1: presidents don’t pass laws
America is not run by kings and queens. No matter how badly a president might want a certain bill to become a law, they need the congress. Obamacare wasn’t passed by Barack Obama, it was passed by congress. The Patriot Act wasn’t passed by George W Bush, it was passed by congress.
When presidents talk about all the big things they’ll do when they get into office, it’s a bit like a coach saying their team is going to win on Sunday. The coach has a role to play, but it’s not solely up to them.
Insight #2: The Senate is controlled by Republicans
In 2014, the Republicans took back the Senate. In 2016, they held it. That means even if a Democrat like Hillary Clinton were sitting in the White House, every law would go through the Republicans. This is by design, because American Democracy likes the idea of spreading powers across the government so no one branch can get too powerful.
Insight #3: In 2008, the Republicans adopted an “obstruct” strategy
When Barack Obama became president, the GOP held a meeting that said they’d block every single proposal put forth by Obama. Every one. No compromise. On anything. No exceptions. The strategy worked. To the best of my knowledge, it’s still in use to this day.
Insight #4: In 2016, the Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat
The word “stole” is a pretty intense one to use, but there’s just no other way to put it. When a Supreme Court justice dies, it’s the job of the president to nominate a new person to take their place. It’s the Senate’s job to vote on the judge. Obama did his part, then the Republicans flatly refused any vote.
Judges sometimes fail to get enough votes to be confirmed. But that’s not what happened here. The Republicans simply refused to allow Obama to pick a judge. Solely because he’s a Democrat. They stole the seat by breaking the law, and Mitch McConnell called it one of his proudest moments.
Summing it all up
I did my best to make these statements objectively true. America passes laws through congress, Republicans control half of congress and have a strategy to not let Democrats score a single win while president, and they proved with the Supreme Court they’re even willing to break the law in order to do it.
Other than quibbling about whether or not they technically broke the law, any Republican politician or strategist would agree with these facts. So that’s where were are today, and where we would have been in 2016. So let’s imagine how things would have gone for Hillary had she won.
Hillary’s First 100 Days
When Barack Obama became president, Democrats controlled the House and Senate. That meant Obama could pick up the phone, talk about what laws they should pass, and actually have a civil conversation. This is how we got things like Obamacare and many other laws between 2008 and 2010.
In contrast, Hillary Clinton would be coming into the White House with a Republican-led House and Senate. Meaning she was free to propose ideas, but there was no chance anything was going to pass. And I mean nothing. Literally zero things, because that’s the stated strategy.
So Hillary wouldn’t have much to show for the first 100 days, or the first year, or the second year. And then, in 2018, the midterm elections would ramp up. And they would have been painful for the Democrats, if history is any guide.
The Curse of the Midterms
There have been 21 midterms elections since 1934, and the party in power has lost seats every time other than two exceptions. This would have been a disaster for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. She’d have spent two years passing zero laws, then suffer through enormous losses in 2018, making her and Democrats even weaker.
Which is exactly what happened to Trump. When 2018 hit, the curse hit the Republicans rather than the Democrats. Which was a nice silver lining.
When congress passes a bill, it gets sent to the president to sign. If the president disagrees with it, they can veto it. But if the congress can get two-thirds voting against the president, they can override the veto and the bill becomes a law anyway.
This means the best (but most evil) strategy is to combine popular bills with controversial details. For example, you might combine a bill that expands veteran benefits with a detail that strips rights from gay people. If a president like Hillary Clinton vetoes it because of gay rights, you can run negative ads saying “Hillary Clinton vetoed a bill that would have helped veterans.”
And with a large enough margin in congress, you can override the veto as well. Two birds with one stone. Make the president look bad and still pass whatever bad bills you want.
A country can only handle a pandemic as long as people have trust in their leaders, scientists, and other experts. What we’ve seen in America is part of the population agreeing with masks, lockdowns, and “flattening the curve” and another part of the population believing it’s all a hoax designed to take their freedoms.
No leader, no matter how amazing, can force people to listen to science instead of conspiracy theories. Hillary Clinton could have done all the same things that other countries did, but if half of the country was being told she was a crooked liar, it’s hard to imagine enough people listening to her to keep the virus under control.
Losing the 2020 Election
As of today, Hillary Clinton would be coming to the last months of her first term with no new legislation to speak of, a huge Republican majority in both branches of congress, and a raging pandemic. She could be the best leader the world has ever seen, but with an obstruction-minded opposition and a large chunk of the country ignoring medical advice, she’d look weak and rudderless. As a result, I think it’s pretty likely she wouldn’t win re-election.
Which would be another Mission Accomplished for Republicans.
Obstruction Is America’s Biggest Challenge
Everyone’s frustrated with politics in America, but I don’t think enough people understand the root causes. It’s not about corruption, or egos, or stupid lawmakers, or grand conspiracies, or the Deep State, or any of the other things people have confidently announced is the problem with DC.
The problem is that Republicans have done the math and found that any compromise, or any good news for America at all, helps a sitting president. So they reason if the president is a Democrat, that hurts Republicans on the ticket. So they’ve come to the conclusion that gridlock and dysfunction is their best strategy when a Democrat controls the White House. And unfortunately, they’re probably right.
The Republican Party campaigns on the idea that government should be small enough they can “drown it in the bathtub.” This makes them an extremely powerful opposition party, because to them gridlock is the point. But what’s worse is how effective they are when they’re in control. We’ve seen a party can do a lot when they don’t believe in democracy, government, or the constitution in the first place.