In 1991, yr. obdt. was barnstorming around the environs of northern Saudi Arabia and southern Kuwait, engaged in something that came to be known as the first Gulf War. One of the more interesting things about that part of the world was the haggling that went around the buying and selling of… well, almost everything.
My Medical Supply Sergeant, who I will refer to as SSG Dwight C., was a master haggler. Driving down Tap Line Road one afternoon, we saw a local vendor along the side of the road selling flags of the region. SSG C. wanted a Kuwaiti flag for a souvenir, so we pulled over, dismounted, he picked out a big Kuwaiti flag and the haggling began. The locals preferred U.S. currency and you could usually get a better price than in any of the local monies.
Eventually the two parties were at an impasse. “Ten dollars,” SSG C. insisted.
“Twelve dollars,” the local demanded. “No less.”
SSG Dwight C. looked at me. “I guess I won’t find a better flag,” he admitted. “All right,” he told the vendor. “Twelve dollars.” He pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to the man.
Now, most people would have stopped right there, and let the vendor’s poor grasp of mathematics close the deal in their favor. Not SSG Dwight C. He puffed up, looked at the vendor in dudgeon approaching high, and snapped, “You said twelve dollars. This is ten! I need two more!”
“Oh, so sorry,” the local said. He peeled off two singles and passed them over as I watched, jaw hanging open.
SSG C. walked swiftly towards the truck. “Come on, Eltee,” he said, “let’s get out of here before he figures it out.”
Now that, True Believers, was a piece of negotiation, masterfully pulled off – and an opening, presented briefly, that was brilliantly seized and exploited to the full.
The once and former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, left under pressure from GOP conservatives in part because he had little aptitude for this kind of negotiation; the House Freedom Caucus in particular noted that Speaker Boehner’s idea of negotiation was to give in to the Democrats, even when the GOP majority held the advantage. It remains to be seen whether the new Speaker, Paul Ryan, will do better – there is probably some cause for optimism, but only some.
Granted Congressional Republicans have one big stumbling block: President Obama. They have comfortable majorities in Congress, but not enough to overturn a Presidential veto. But President Obama’s days in the Imperial Mansion are drawing to a close, and since the Democrats really don’t have a viable candidate, it’s increasingly likely that January 2017 will see the inauguration of a Republican President.
At that point the question becomes this: Where are the GOP’s ruthless dealers? Where are the people that will take this momentary advantage and push it to the hilt? Where are the people who will grab this advantage and run with it?
A big part of Donald Trump’s success to date has been due to his casting himself as a deal-maker. Well, he is, but his experience may not necessarily translate well into government; as President, he would be constrained by the Constitution (supposedly; the current Administration hasn’t even really bothered to pay lip service to the Constitution, much less abide by it) and he would be dealing with two separate and co-equal branches of government.
We live in a time when both political parties have pulled away from each other. When I first registered to vote in 1979, there were conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, and both parties had moderates among them – quite a few. Now the parties have sorted out, and pulled away from each other, and as a result, the Imperial Mansion has repeatedly passed back and forth between parties, as has Congress. The last time the GOP held Congress and the Presidency, all they managed to accomplish was the largest expansion of the Imperial Federal government since Lyndon Johnson – at least, the largest expansion until Barack Obama blew through it like a freight train through a marshmallow factory. When the Democrats held both the legislative and executive branches, they did get big pieces of their agenda through. Much of it caused lasting economic harm and infringed on our personal liberty, but they sure as hell got things done.
In the elections of 2016, it is very likely the GOP will take control of the Imperial Mansion, and unless current trends dramatically reverse, they will maintain their control of Congress. So what will they do with it? Will we see substantive tax reform? Will we see real reductions in Imperial spending? The Democrats were quick to take their momentary advantage and make the most of it – why cannot the GOP do the same?
If the 2001-2007 example is any indication, they won’t. Not unless they are willing to take that advantage, which may only last two years, and run with it. Not unless they are willing to grab with both hands.
Given recent history, that just does not seem very likely.