The few days following Donald Trump’s victory have housed conciliatory calls by Republican and conservative leaders who actively opposed Trump during the primary and either vowed not to vote for him or did so with professed reluctance. They have included congratulations to the president-elect and pleas to unite around and support the nation’s next president, whose success or failure could become the success or failure of millions of people.
These leaders include several members of Congress, such as Speaker Paul Ryan, who earned the ire of many pro-Trump thinkers for failing to lend the Republican nominee his full support.
“Given the level of distrust between congressional Republican leaders and President-elect Trump, the threat of unilateralism from the executive is diminished.”
Now, many of those who actively advocated for Trump during the primary and general elections have extended strong criticisms to elected Republican leaders who joined the #NeverTrump movement or who refused to fight openly for Trump’s election. Popular leaders on the right such as Sean Hannity or Mike Cernovich have urged American voters to oust these leaders from Congress.
But the level of distrust within the Republican Party, and especially among members of Congress, establishes a healthy political balance that will benefit our constitutional order.
For the last eight years, the Democratic Party advocated mostly unconditionally for the executive decisions that Barack Obama advanced, whether unilaterally or with Congress, and whether within the Constitution’s purview or outside of it. The use and scope of President Obama’s executive orders far exceeded precedent, but the Democratic Party, instead of offering resistance, encouraged it. The same applies to the presidency of George W. Bush, in particular with regards to the Iraq War.
However, given the level of distrust between congressional Republican leaders and President-elect Trump, the threat of unilateralism from the executive is diminished. This distrust is especially important with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress: if Republicans and Trump had a stronger relationship of mutual trust, it is far more likely that Trump’s unilateral or extra-constitutional decisions would go without resistance by any majority party in one of the chambers.
“The Constitution is an apolitical document: it does not suppose that one party or another’s policies are superior; it simply demands that those policies operate within the guidelines it ordains for the exercise of power.”
The executive branch is undoubtedly understood to be the most significant: presidential elections elicit more participation and attention; the presidency is the most notable public official; the media covers the president in more depth than Congress or the courts; and the president’s powers have expanded faster than any other branch.
This growth of the executive poses obvious dangers to American constitutional order, which intended for the Congress to possess the most power; and even then, the first Article of the Constitution strictly limited and sternly curtailed the scope of that power.
It is clear that the constitutional balance has faltered in favor of the presidency, and important steps have to be taken to restore it. Republican leaders’ suspicion toward Trump, given that they control both houses of Congress, offers a reason to hope that presidential unilateralism will not go unchecked by the president’s party.
The Constitution is an apolitical document: it does not suppose that one party or another’s policies are superior; it simply demands that those policies operate within the guidelines it ordains for the exercise of power. The mutual cynicism between Republican congressional leaders and President-elect Trump could potentially facilitate a rescinding of the ever-increasing and relatively unchecked authority of the presidency.