Why a unified government may very well be the enemy of the Republican party

Why a unified government may very well be the enemy of the Republican party

Control of the House; control of the Senate; and, after Donald Trump's jaw-dropping victory on Election Day, Republicans now possess control of the White House, as well. All of this grants the GOP a better opportunity to institute the kind of conservative reforms they've been fighting for since President Barack Obama's election in 2008.  

It's the Republican Party's first unified government in a decade — but a unified government doesn't automatically signal a unified party. Competing factions within the Republican Party once shared a common enemy in Hillary Clinton. But with their opponent's defeat in their rear-view mirror, these factions now face the sobering reality of assimilating their messages and ideals into achievable policy proposals — a volatile alchemy that could expose deep ideological rifts within the Grand Ole Party.

Ironically, thanks to a newly emboldened fringe right at odds with its party's mainstream on key positions, Republican control of the White House and both chambers of Congress may very well be the new enemy of GOP unity. 

Much of this stems from the fact that Trump is not a traditional Republican, and thus does not possess policies that jive with the traditional conservative orthodoxy. Several of his top campaign priorities — including trade protectionism and infrastructure spending without pay-for provisions — go against the agenda House Speaker Paul Ryan had laid out.

Ryan, for example, is already suggesting Republicans won't move on Trump's trade policies, which would place massive tariffs on manufacturers who choose to move their plants overseas. Instead, Ryan told CNN there's a "better way" to deal with trade, pointing to corporate tax reform.

This battle could be the powder keg that leads to an explosive battle between Republican leadership and GOP members from free trade-hating Rust Belt states that backed Trump and helped to hand him the keys to the White House.

Even more pressing for the GOP is that anti-establishment conservative agitators, such as Sen. Ted Cruz and the House Freedom Caucus — a group of tea party sympathizing House members who are a thorn in the side of GOP leadership — will want immediate action on some of Trump's top pledges, including a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

But even House leadership, which has been railing against Obamacare for years, knows that an immediate repeal without a plan to replace it is political suicide. 

Kicking 20 million people off Obamacare, as well as taking away popular aspects of the law — such as requiring insurance companies to accept people with preexisting conditions and allowing young people up to age 26 to stay on their family plans — would cause an immediate backlash.

Trump realized this after meeting with Obama at the White House last week, coming out to say he wants to keep these provisions intact. But without an individual mandate — which pushes younger, healthier individuals to buy health care and offset the costs for the older, sicker people in the insurance pool — insurance companies would either refuse to honor those provisions or raise costs so high that health care would be unaffordable for most Americans. 

So with no immediate plan to deal with that reality, a repeal does not appear to be on the horizon.

"I hate the marketplace; I think Obamacare is a disaster. But politically, once people have been given a government benefit, they are loath to let it go," one anti-Trump Republican strategist said. "All the Trump voters eight years ago saying 'Don't pass Obamacare' will be the same morons who will be there saying, 'But I like my Obamacare.' " 

To be sure, Republicans are currently celebrating a unified government.

"With a unified government, we can get to work and tackle the issues that matter most to the American people," House Republicans tweeted Monday from their official Twitter account. 

But Democrats say even with a unified government, Republicans are going to have a hard time squaring their campaign promises with political reality.

"I think that Trump and Republicans are going to have to confront their rhetoric with reality on Jan. 20, and it's something they haven't had to worry about under Obama," said Doug Thornell, who worked as a Democratic House strategist in 2010. "They basically spent eight years spinning a bogus narrative about this country, [as well as about] Obama and his policies, to their supporters. Now they have complete control, and I think we are about to see their rhetoric and polices crash right into a brick wall of reality."