The victory of "no"

This strategy of kicking the hell out of Obama all the time, treating him not just as a president from the opposing party but an extreme threat to the American way of life, has been a remarkable political success. It helped Republicans take back the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016. This no-cooperation, no-apologies approach is also on the verge of delivering a conservative majority on the Supreme Court; Republicans violated all kinds of Washington norms when they refused to even pretend to consider any Obama nominee, but they paid no electoral price for it—and probably helped persuade some reluctant Republican voters to back Donald Trump in November by keeping the Court in the balance.

So the party’s anti-Obama strategy has ended up working almost exactly as planned, except that none of the Republican elites who devised it, not even Vice President-elect Pence, envisioned that their new leader would rise to power by attacking Republican elites as well as the Democratic president. President-elect Trump was really the ultimate anti-Obama, not only channeling but embodying their anti-Obama playbook so convincingly that he managed to seize the Republican Party from loyal Republicans. And in the process, he has empowered an angry slice of the GOP base that has even some GOP incumbents worried about the forces they helped unleash.

Still, for the most part, obstructionism worked. Americans always tell pollsters they want politicians to work together, but as Washington Democrats decide how to approach the Trump era from the minority, they will be keenly aware that the Republican Party’s decision to throw sand in the gears of government throughout the Obama era helped the Republican Party wrest unified control of that government—even though the party establishment lost control of the party in the process. Unprecedented intransigence has yielded unprecedented results.