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Though it’s difficult to fathom after seemingly endless months of Donald Trump, the many failures of Jeb!, and, yes, those damn emails, the 2016 election is still nearly a year away—so primary and general election polls aren’t particularly predictive at this point in the game.
While it’s true that Trump and, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton have demonstrated remarkable longevity at the head of the pack, the whole election conversation could still change considerably. Big events (like, say, the financial crisis around the time of the 2008 election or this year’s attacks in Paris) can totally shift voters’ priorities.
And in the meantime, polling accuracy is lower than it’s been in years thanks to the rise of cell phones. Poll companies either have to shell out the big bucks to call cell users, or they have to content themselves with sampling only the portion of the country that still has a landline. That means skewing polls dramatically to reflect the opinions of older, wealthier Americans.
I mention all this to say: 2016 ain’t over.
As much we might wish it, and as much as we can make informed guesses about what will happen, there is plenty of cause to be uncertain about who will occupy the Oval Office come January 2017.
And the Republicans and Democrats currently in Congress and the White House would do well to keep that in mind.
In fact, they should spend this next year governing on the assumption that their party is going to lose both the presidency and the majority in both houses—governing, in fact, like losers.
Let’s consider how this might look in relation to a few specific issues.
Right now, for example, there are several new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) bills up for consideration in Congress. This is important because currently the president has no real legal authorization for the war against ISIS—he’s using an AUMF that was drawn up before ISIS even existed.
Among these options now on the table, there’s significant variation in the geographic and chronological limits placed on the war. One has a three-year deadline and requirements for keeping Congress informed. Another is essentially a free-for-all.
As Congress considers these bills, governing on the assumption of a 2016 loss would mean a strong preference for limits, limits, and more limits.
Think about it: Republicans, do you really trust Hillary “what difference, at this point, does it make?” Clinton to have congressional permission for unlimited war in the Middle East?
And Democrats, what if Donald “take out their families” Trump or Ben “kill innocent women and children” Carson actually becomes the GOP nominee? Do you want either of them coming into office with a blank check for military interventions?
Or what about recent proposals to use the FBI’s terrorist watch list as a way to ban dangerous people from owning guns?
Democrats, you no doubt recall Trump’s remarks about implementing a national registry of Muslims in America. Do you really want to risk him being elected with a legal precedent for denying people their constitutional rights because they’re on a (probably wildly inaccurate) government list? There are, after all, other constitutional rights you likely value more than the Second Amendment which could be and indeed historically have been taken away from politically unpopular Americans in wartime.
Republicans, you’ve opposed the watch list gun ban plan on due process grounds, which is frankly hypocritical after the GOP’s recent history of trampling Fourth Amendment rights in the name of safety. But still, this is what governing like losers looks like: as much as fearmongers are hyping up the scariness of “letting terror suspects have guns”—while ignoring just how little being on this list is actually predictive of terrorist activity—you’ve demonstrated foresight by standing up for constitutional rights.
In these and in other policy arenas, governing like losers would tend to protect Americans’ civil liberties, produce real limits on the power of the presidency, and guard against short-sighted plans made on the assumption of future control of one or more branches of government.
Republicans and Democrats, you don’t have to like or trust each other. Just turn that suspicion into something more productive. Become a watchdog of power, and don’t give any part of the government authority you wouldn’t want to lose to the other side come Election Day 2016.