As he skips the inauguration of his successor and shuffles off to his resort in Florida, has Donald Trump destroyed the Republican Party? Some political observers think so and of course Democrats hope so.
Trump’s petulant and even seditious exit from office did him no credit. But then he did not do so badly in the popular vote and the Electoral College, and even landslide defeats in presidential elections seldom knock a major party down for long.
Herbert Hoover led the Republicans to a landslide victory in 1928 over Democrat Al Smith but himself was ousted in a landslide by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrats in 1932.
Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee in 1964, was derided as too conservative and was clobbered by Lyndon B. Johnson and the Democrats in 1964, but the Republicans still won the next presidential election with Richard Nixon.
George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, was derided as too liberal and lost big to Nixon and the Republicans in 1972, but the Democrats still won four years later with Jimmy Carter.
The reversal of party fortunes in these cases was largely a matter of self-destruction. Hoover turned a stock market crash into the Great Depression. Johnson escalated and failed to win a stupid imperial war. Nixon and his vice president, Spiro Agnew, got caught in criminality. (Even so, Nixon’s appointed vice president, Gerald Ford, nearly won the 1976 presidential election for the Republicans anyway.)
Both major parties have influential elements that many voters find objectionable if not repulsive and yet gain big roles when their party is in power. So it is not hard to imagine such elements bringing trouble to Joe Biden’s new Democratic national administration even as the Republicans at last may be relieved of the daily embarrassments of Trump’s demeanor, especially since, out of office, much civil and even criminal litigation may keep him busy. Additionally, Republicans in Washington may rediscover that being in the minority makes taking potshots easy, far easier than governing.
Will the Biden administration self-destruct with corruption, incompetence, failure, or politically correct nonsense? Maybe not, but with the Democratic margins in Congress being so thin, the new administration may have to be unusually successful to avoid losing control of both houses in the elections two years hence, since mid-term elections usually go against the president’s party.
In any case, while good government is good politics, good government seldom lasts long, so defeated parties tend to revive faster than expected.
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REVOLVING DOOR SPINS: Having just left the speakership of Connecticut’s House of Representatives, former state Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, has quickly moved into a position with Gaffney Bennett and Associates, which calls itself Connecticut’s leading government relations firm. Connecticut’s “revolving door” law prohibits Aresimowicz from lobbying legislators and government agencies for a year, but obviously the firm believes he can bring in a lot of good business anyway.
Aresimowicz’s transformation may dishearten advocates of the public interest but it’s not unusual. The Connecticut Mirror notes that three former House speakers are already lobbying or working for firms that do government relations. The Mirror might have added that a former state Senate leader heads Connecticut’s biggest teacher union.
As a legislator Aresimowicz himself was employed by a government employee union. While this presented more than the typical potential conflict of interest most legislators face, it was perfectly legal, since the legislature is nominally part-time work, most legislators must hold other jobs, and Aresimowicz’s constituents knew who he was when they elected him.
Former state legislators aren’t the only ones drawn to government employment in Connecticut. Many journalists have left news organizations for public relations positions with government agencies or businesses. Indeed, there now may be more former journalists in government P.R. in Connecticut than there are news reporters.
Government is just where the money is these days. Former legislative leaders don’t go to work for the Red Cross, Salvation Army, or Audubon Society, nor do former journalists. There always has been and always will be more money in subverting or deflecting the public interest than in pursuing it.
Chris Powell has worked for the Journal Inquirer since 1967, first as a reporter, then as an editor, and now as a columnist. He was managing editor from 1974 until retiring from that position in 2018. His columns are published in many Connecticut newspapers.