Will Trump’s Nomination Lead to More Bipartisan Public Policy?

Weekly Article
June 16, 2016

There is great national interest in policies that seem as though they might be able to gain support across party lines. It could be that Donald Trump's nomination is a catalyst that leads to more bipartisan policies.

Each day it seems as though Donald Trump says something that raises the ire of groups, voters, pundits and journalists. Yet Trump has now secured the delegates needed to become the Republican nominee. Many are asking what impact his nomination will have on public policy.  Might it be possible that, regardless of the outcome of the general election, Trump’s nomination could lead to a realignment within the Republican party, and then to more bipartisan policy nationally going forward?  

This question was the subject of a recent New America event. Dana Milbank, Norman Ornstein, Indira Lakshmanan, Lara Brown, and Matthew Continetti came together to discuss whether Trump's nomination might lead to even greater gridlock, or perhaps more bipartisan outcomes.

Trump has the potential to be more moderate on policy than recent Republican nominees.  He was a New York Democrat not too long ago. Trump’s success in the GOP primary came largely because he stood out from the rest of the very large Republican field, many of whom came from the party establishment, in his views on immigration, trade, entitlements, and the minimum wage. Conservative writer David Frum noted that “Trump spoke to genuinely underrepresented people.” His views were perceived as helping the middle class rather than big business, despite his big business background. Does Trump’s success show that the GOP establishment is out of touch with its base to the extent that the party will naturally realign on policy? It could be that the way forward for GOP politicians is to develop more middle class, worker, and family friendly policies that help support the economic and social well being of parents and children.

Usually, GOP candidates move towards the middle once nominated and become more worker and family friendly in policy after the primary. Trump already has a head start. Last month, Trump was asked what his party would look like in five years. He replied, “Five, 10 years from now — different party. You’re going to have a workers’ party. A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry.” If Trump is right, that would mean a true realignment for the GOP.

Surveys show Trump is changing the GOP voter mix by appealing to non-college educated voters who have responded to his populist message. There are many potential policies that could appeal to such voters, and that could make a difference in the lives of middle class families (it should also be noted that New America has a family centered social policy initiative dedicated to developing such ideas).

For example, one potential issue area is paid leave. Last fall, Marco Rubio became the first GOP candidate to endorse using public funds to expand the availability of paid leave through tax credits.

Given Trump’s general election opponent (Secretary Clinton’s June 7 speech—her first after being declared the presumptive Democratic nominee—focused on the historic event that “a woman will be a major party’s nominee"), criticism over Trump’s comments about women, and the general political gender gap Republicans have versus Democrats, there is political motivation for Trump to look to work family policies.

When asked about paid leave by Fox Business recently, Trump responded, “We have to keep our country very competitive, so you have to be careful of it.” That is not overly positive, but one could see Trump being open to work family policies as an extension of his support for the middle class, including on paid leave. Last November, Trump spoke positively about child care and suggested more companies should expand the availability of child care for their working parents. Trump’s corporation offers several weeks paid time off for new mothers. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, had a son in March. She has said, “Parental leave is enormously important.”

Paid leave is an example of the kind of middle class focused policies that one could imagine a President Trump finding common ground on with Democrats in Congress. As Ornstein noted, a Trump victory in November would likely be the result of a major instinct for change among voters, likely as the result of some negative event in the U.S. economy or world which motivates this desire for change. Such an event would mean a President Trump would be dealing with a potential crisis at home or abroad early in his presidency. Given Trump’s rhetoric about taking bold action, if it was an economic related crisis, one could see him pushing for a bold government response. If Trump wins the White House, it means Republicans will likely do well in congressional races and at least retain the House. However, House Republicans, as well as establishment Republicans in the Senate, might push back against a President Trump’s bold economic and social policy actions if they grow the size of government. Thus, Trump might find himself working with Democrats in the House and Senate to move forward his legislation in the early part of his presidency and bipartisan deals might result.

New America's Mike Lind and Lee Drutman have written eloquently about the likelihood of a party realignment.  Win or lose, there could be a coming policy realignment within the GOP.  If Trump wins, it will underscore the success of his shift towards making the GOP a “workers’ party,” as Trump put it. If Trump loses, it will be the third consecutive general election loss for the GOP.  Many feel that, much like the Democrats after their third straight loss in 1988, a third loss would cause the GOP to recalibrate its policies anyway and move in new directions. This is to say that, even without a Trump victory, the GOP might move towards more family friendly middle class policies anyway, and this could lead to bipartisan deals with Democrats who support such policies.

There is much that could happen as a result of this particularly unique election cycle.  Bipartisan policy in America could indeed be among the potential outcomes.