As part of MinnPost ninth anniversary celebration this week, political scientist Norm Ornstein sat down with MinnPost columnist Eric Black for a discussion about the 2016 election — and what to expect in a Donald Trump administration.
Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, began the evening by putting Donald Trump’s campaign within the context of other populist movements in history, from Andrew Jackson to Ralph Nader, and noting how his rise was fueled by increasing tribalism of politics in the United States. “When it’s tribal, you don’t view people on the other side of the aisle as adversaries, worthy adversaries,” Ornstein noted. “They’re the enemy. And if they’re for it, you’re against it, even if you were for it yesterday.”
And while a lot of people were riveted by the campaign, Ornstein said, many voters were also turned off by it, particularly on the Democratic side of the aisle. And he said he believes the two letters released by FBI Director James Comey just prior to the election did have an effect on the outcome, with the first letter pulling attention away from Donald Trump’s “misbehavior” toward women and the second energizing Trump voters just before Election Day.
Though the full ramifications of the election are just beginning to emerge, Ornstein touched on one little-discussed consequence of Republicans’ ability to maintain control of U.S. Senate. “Imagine two of those Senate races had gone the other way; we would have a Democratic Senate, and for two weeks, from Jan. 6, when the new Senate convenes, until Jan. 20, when the new president gets inaugurated … that Senate would have brought up, with Barack Obama as president, Merrick Garland’s nomination and confirmed him.”
Many of the questions Ornstein fielded focused on what to expect from the Trump administration, the prospects for which Ornstein wasn’t optimistic about: “We’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “We have a president coming in who came in without any experience in governing at any level. … We just don’t know. We don’t know which part of Trump’s personality will emerge now that he’s moving into this position.”
Nor does Ornstein have a lot of hope that those around Trump will be particularly effective in creating a functional executive branch. “I’ve said this before … but Reince Priebus without the vowels is R.N.C.-P.R.-B.S,” he said about the Trump’s incoming chief of staff. “So I’m not a great fan. Reince served a while in the Wisconsin legislature, but otherwise has no experience governing. And so you’re bringing in a chief of staff who has not been in the executive branch or even in the Congress where you’re interacting with the executive branch.”
Ornstein’s talk was the highlight of MinnPost’s 9th anniversary celebration, which brought 500 to the Cowles Center in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday.
After the program, MinnPost hosted a reception in the lobby of the Cowles Center to thank attendees for their ongoing support of high-quality journalism.