The Huffington Post’s Jonathan Cohn has a long and very interesting feature about Clinton’s policy agenda, the state of Democratic politics, and what a Clinton presidency could look like. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in here—including the irony of the fact that Clinton has invested heavily in policy during an election that has been all about personality—but one paragraph in particular stuck out to me:
Clinton’s inner circle is also placing high hopes on the man who could end up becoming her chief antagonist: Paul Ryan. Last year, the Republican House speaker worked with the White House and Democratic leaders to pass an omnibus spending bill that gave both parties something to smile about in the tax policy department. To one Clinton ally, this signaled that “Ryan and the Republicans, even in the context of an election campaign, are prepared to do business on not-insignificant matters.” This person went on: “The optimistic storyline … is that it’s a precursor to future cooperation and, after an election when you have some kind of wind at your back as a new president, it’d be very difficult for them not to work with you on some of these kinds of things.”
Of course, as Cohn notes, Obama also entered the White House in 2008 with the same high hopes, having won an electoral mandate with a post-partisan message. There has been very little cooperation over the last eight years, however, even though Obama won another mandate in 2008.
If elected, it’s highly likely that Republicans will acknowledge that Clinton has a mandate, however—it’s likely that they’ll cite her (likely) narrow victory or her (lunatic) opponent to delegitimize her. Meanwhile, the biggest threat to Ryan’s speakership is internal, given that Republicans would probably win more seats in 2018—his incentive is to placate his own party and the right and hope for a Republican president in 2020.
So should Clinton’s team place their faith in Ryan? Certainly not, though it’s worth pointing out here that, despite the “high hopes” rhetoric, the bar is very low here: Given the partisan makeup of Congress, Clinton and Ryan would almost certainly have no choice but to work together occasionally. Anyways, what kind of presidential candidate goes around saying that they won’t work with Congress, or even the opposition? Team Clinton wasn’t going to come out and say it was gearing up for four years of trench warfare, even though that’s probably what’s going to happen.