One of the strangest aspects of the 2016 election is the lack of a conversation about possible changes coming to our country once January hits. Sure, both sides have slung mud at the other, with accusations of potential destruction of our democracy running rampant. Many believe Hillary Clinton will destroy the rights of everyday Americans and raise taxes to draconian levels. On the other side, people believe Trump will deport Muslims and Mexicans while simultaneously running the country into the ground. Hyperbole aside, there are real consequences for this election. Both candidates have elucidated some plans for the future of the United States of America. But implementation is a more difficult task.
Traditionally, presidential candidates seek the greatest mandate possible. This mandate, manifesting itself in the form of votes and elected seats, allows a candidate to set the narrative in their favor. When candidates and their parties are massively successful, it propels the platform to the policy table. Examples of this include Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Conversely, a small margin of victory will result in a lack of the momentum needed to establish meaningful gains. Harry Truman is one example. Presidents need this display of support to maintain their election agendas. In these days of especially partisan politics, the candidate who wins the presidency needs a mandate because it translates into control of the House of Representatives and Senate. Congressional control is absolutely necessary for any policy to be passed.
Currently, neither party seems to have a chance to gain control of both the presidency and the legislature. While Clinton has consistently led in the polls since May, she needs a margin of about 12 points to gain the number of House seats necessary to gain control. Furthermore, the Senate increasingly looks to be split 50-50, leading to the interesting notion of an active and power-wielding vice president. This Senate prediction also troubles Trump’s candidacy, which while trailing, has still managed to hold on to a majority of House seats. There are many reasons for this lack of control switching from Republicans to Democrats, including gerrymandering and the simple fact that Senators are elected in a staggered format (thanks, James Madison).
Despite this, both candidates have put forth policy agendas for their first hundred days in office. Although Clinton has struggled to keep to a consistent message about what exactly she wants to pursue, her plans for immigration reform and infrastructure spending are often at the forefront of her speeches. These are issues that both Republicans and Democrats can get behind, and will be easy for the general electorate to swallow.
The electorate can generally expect the presidency to be an extension of the Obama years, which is part of the reason for a lack of a clear message. On the other hand, Donald Trump’s first one hundred days include immigration reform, tax reform, a repeal of Obamacare and economic protectionism. The issues which drive Donald Trump’s campaign are also hard to glean out into any comprehensive policy agenda, but are primarily focused on those issues. To be sure, Donald Trump has a much easier path to implementing these goals, should he become president.
The first one hundred days are the best time for a president to implement their platform, should they have at least a notion of mandate. Unfortunately for either side, this remains a deeply divided time for both parties, preventing relatively easy policy changes from being implemented. The political climate does not lend itself to compromise necessary for a change. Whichever party inhabits the White House in January, they will need to look forward to 2018, and 2020, to hope to make any sort of change.
Alex Perkowski is a junior political science major.