Republicans expect a Clinton win and are already lining up to attack
The polls are tightening, which was almost inevitable given the extreme partisan polarisation in American politics. But the electoral college map remains clear and looks poised to repeat the party breakdown of 2012. So, it’s going to take a remarkable turnaround – probably requiring a dramatic and largely imponderable event such as an unprecedented “October surprise” or a totally unexpected performance by either party in the presidential debates – to allow Donald Trump to beat Hillary Clinton in November.
What’s most fascinating is not the likely outcome, which seems set to deliver the White House to Mrs Clinton. Far more interesting, and troubling, is what awaits her after inauguration.
The probable Clinton presidency is already in the crosshairs being set up by Republicans across the board. If elected, she is likely to become the target of massive and unending accusations, investigations, official inquiries, committees, special prosecutors and, if possible, even an impeachment. Signs are everywhere, unmistakable and alarming that Republicans are openly building the infrastructure for the most paralysing gridlock in recent American history.
For that, they need only retain control of the House of Representatives, and they are at least as likely to do so as Mrs Clinton is to become president.
Democrats need the same kind of political miracle to take control of the House as it would take for Mr Trump to win the presidency. Neither is on the cards.
The bigger question is the Senate, which is poised on a razor’s edge. Assuming Mrs Clinton becomes president, Democrats would need four new Senate seats for a functional majority with her vice president, Tim Kaine, serving as tiebreaker, or five for an outright majority.
Odds for both parties in the Senate now appear about 50-50. A Democratic Senate majority would allow Mrs Clinton to at least secure her cabinet and other senior appointments, particularly to the Supreme Court, without Republican obstruction.
But if Republicans retain control of the Senate, she can look forward to nasty fights on virtually everything she tries to do, with the possible exception of basic expenditure or job-creation programmes. Much beyond that will be utterly paralysed, including, if the Republican lawmakers can manage it, foreign as well as domestic policy.
If Democrats get four new Senate seats, Mrs Clinton could secure her appointments and be practically safe from conviction in the Senate if whe were impeached by the House (the lust, though hardly the grounds, for which is already clear). But her legislative agenda would be all but dead in the water.
For lack of better ideas, Republicans have long-cultivated being an obstructionist party. Their bitterness about the massive 2008 loss to Barack Obama sharpened this inclination to a keen edge. They are familiar and comfortable with being an obstructionist force in government, saying no to virtually everything, and practising the dark art of creating gridlock and rationalising its virtues.
Mr Obama came into office as a constitutional scholar with an instinctive mistrust of arbitrary executive authority and a strong inclination to build compromise and consensus. But his two terms increasingly turned him into one of the most expansive practitioners of executive orders in the country’s history, largely because he found that without using presidential authority to bypass a Republican Congress, he simply couldn’t get much done.
Most Republicans may not like Mr Obama much. But many despise Mrs Clinton at a very different personal and visceral level.
So while Republicans refined their techniques of obstructionism over the past eight years, the prospect of Mrs Clinton in the White House is already turning many minds towards more serious forms of attack.
Leading the prep work is house oversight committee chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who is pursuing a relentless campaign regarding Mrs Clinton’s emails and devices used during her tenure as secretary of state. To bolster his position to harass her now and into the future, he is also calling on Mr Trump to release his tax returns.
One can hardly imagine a Clinton presidency not haunted by endless investigations based on ancient, more recent and yet-to- be discovered alleged scandals.
From ancient allegations concerning Vince Foster, Travelgate and Whitewater to newer ones about Benghazi and her emails, and on a raft of new accusations as yet unarticulated, the attack will surely be instantaneous and relentless.
Mrs Clinton and her husband Bill have been under intense scrutiny for decades, and have made many mistakes, errors of judgment and worse, providing an endless series of targets, some real but most imaginary, for her would-be persecutors.
So, while Mrs Clinton will probably win, it’s almost certain that her presidency will be among the most troubled in history and that she will be relentlessly pursued by Republicans whose only remaining defence is a vicious and relentless attack. They are lining up, cleaning and aiming their ample cannon at her already.
Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington
On Twitter: @ibishblog
Published: September 11, 2016 04:00 AM