Hard to argue — although the left will argue, pointing to the fact that Trump will not only finish with less than half of the popular vote, he’s likely to finish behind Clinton. (There are millions of votes still to be counted, many in deep blue California.) The idea of a mandate is also odd coming from Ryan since he’s Trump’s main ideological rival in the party. Which mandate does he mean? Is he conceding that Trump has a mandate for nationalism, meaning that Paul Ryan now feels duty-bound to become a border hawk, or is the “mandate” he has in mind a “Republican mandate” in which the White House and Congress come together to enact policy that they mutually agree upon? I think that’s the mandate Ryan has in mind. I don’t think it’s the mandate Trump’s fans have in mind.
Let’s not miss the forest for the trees, though. The point of this speech was to publicly bend the knee to the new leader of the party with an eye to retaining his role as Speaker. Sean Hannity, weirdly, chose to celebrate the hour of Trump’s great victory last night by insisting that Ryan won’t be Speaker in the next Congress. In theory, he and his pal Donald should have no say over that; it’s the House Republican caucus who decides. But Trump, having just won the biggest victory for the GOP in 12 years, surely could push Ryan out if he made a stink about not being able to work with him. There’d be enough Republicans in the House eager to stay on the right side of their base back home to pull their support from Ryan in the name of appeasing Trump. With 235 or so Republican seats in the next Congress, all you’d need are 18 defections to block him. And there have been rumors that those votes are out there. In fact, a story that slipped under the radar in the final days before the election was this report of GOP Rep. Jim Renacci, a Ryan ally, drafting a letter that called on the caucus to delay its leadership elections beyond November 15th. That was taken as a sign that even Ryan’s pals in the House were getting nervous about sticking by him in case Trump lost and angry Trumpers started sniffing around Ryan as the scapegoat-in-chief. He was already on thinning ice. This “yowza, Trump’s awesome!” address below is designed to make the ice a little thicker. If Trump says “I like Paul, we can work together,” that should be enough to kill the anti-Ryan movement in the House, such as it is.
The guy with the more interesting, and immediate, “mandate” dilemma in Congress is Mitch McConnell, who’s now caught between a Democratic minority with plenty of votes and appetite to filibuster GOP initiatives and a new authoritarian president in Trump who won’t like to be told that his agenda can’t get through Congress because McConnell refuses to take that filibuster away. Will Mitch the Knife nuke the filibuster — not just for Supreme Court nominees but for legislation, which would turn the Senate back into a simple-majority chamber like the House? I’m thinking … yeah, he might. Not only because the Republican base will agree with Ryan that Trump has a mandate and therefore Democratic opposition is illegitimate, but because there are likely to be no consequences for the GOP until 2020 or beyond for nuking it. Remember, the 2018 midterm map is very favorable to Republicans. There’s every chance that the party will add to its Senate majority, and it may end up adding enough that Democrats can’t retake the Senate realistically in 2020. That means the GOP wouldn’t need to worry about a Democratic president passing laws with 51 Democratic votes in the Senate until possibly 2023 at the earliest. Is six years of a filibuster-free Senate worth it to Republicans, notwithstanding the risk of Dem retaliation later? Probably.