Looking back: What if Hillary had won?

A couple of recent conversations made me wonder how things might be different if 80,000 people had voted differently in 2016 and Hillary Clinton had edged out Donald Trump in the Electoral College. One school of thought holds that the second President Clinton would have represented the end of America as we know it, but is that really what would have happened?

If other election results were significantly unchanged, Clinton would have been faced with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. As with Barack Obama, the same Republicans in Congress that enabled Donald Trump would have acted as a brake on Hillary’s progressive agenda.

One of the first places where history would have diverged would have been the appointment of a replacement for Antonin Scalia. While I agree that any Hillary or Obama appointment would have been a step down from Scalia, Hillary would not have been able to appoint a fire-breathing liberal to the Court.

Why? Because a Republican Senate would not have to confirm a far-left justice. We would not have Neal Gorsuch or Brett Kavanaugh, but moderately liberal Clinton appointments might not have significantly shifted the balance of the Court.

Still, judicial appointments are an area where Trump has hands-down performed better than Hillary would have. Trump’s appointments are a clear conservative victory… Except that if Joe Biden wins and Democrats take control of the Senate and pack the Court, those gains might quickly prove ephemeral.

Another area of difference is with trade. Hillary waffled on the Trans Pacific Pact, but I am skeptical that she would have abandoned the treaty. She definitely would not have launched the tariff war that Donald Trump began.

While many Trump apologists view this as a weakness for Hillary, as an economic conservative, I disagree. Trump is actually to the left of Hillary and Obama on trade as he himself acknowledged when he compared his trade policy to that of Bernie Sanders.

Far from being a winning strategy, Trump’s trade policy has been disastrous. His taxes on trade have offset the benefits of tax reform for most Americans and devastated American manufacturing and farm exports. Trump’s farm base was pacified with billions of dollars in bailouts but the US manufacturing sector was in a recession for all of 2019. The rest of the country followed in February 2020, a month before the pandemic hit the US in earnest and after negative economic growth began in the fourth quarter of 2019 following the escalation of the trade war with China.

How do you get Republicans to cheer for tax increases? Have President Trump call them tariffs. But tariffs are taxes and come with all the negative economic consequences of any other tax increase.

But what about the stock market? The Dow has been on a tear throughout the Trump era. Wouldn’t the stock market have crashed under a Hillary Administration?

It’s true the stock market has done well under Trump, even recovering most of its losses from the pandemic spring, but many of the stock market graphs touting Trump’s success with the market end in 2017. If we zoom out and look at a longer time scale, we see that the market has been on a steady climb since the recovery from the Great Recession began in 2009. The market has been tumultuous since the onset of the trade war in 2018.

It’s also true that tax reform would have never happened under Hillary Clinton. I favored tax reform, but the new tax laws also have a downside. Federal revenues flattened after the tax cuts while spending increased sharply under Trump. As a result, both the federal budget deficit and the national debt ballooned even before the pandemic.

If Hillary had been president with a Republican Congress, federal spending would have been more restrained. In fact, when Barack Obama was president, the much-maligned John Boehner led the House to reduce federal spending in consecutive years for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration in 2012 and 2013. Ironically, most Republicans that I talk to refuse to believe that this victory occurred.

But wouldn’t Hillary have eviscerated the Second Amendment and instituted abortion on demand? Remember that Republican control of Congress would have limited her actions on those issues to tinkering around the edges with Executive Orders as Obama did. Barack Obama was president for eight years and Republicans in Congress stonewalled gun control for the entire time. In fact, President Trump has been more successful at enacting gun control than Obama, having instructed his bureaucrats to ban bump stocks without going through Congress.

As for abortion, the practice has been in long-term decline for decades regardless of which party occupied the White House. Abortion declined throughout the Obama years and is now at a lower level than prior to Roe v. Wade when it was totally illegal in many states. This milestone occurred before President Trump took office.

What else might have been different if Hillary Clinton had become president? There are both good and bad possibilities. Our allies would not have been alienated by our erratic foreign policy and attempts to retreat from the world stage. The US would not have recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. On the other hand, the US would likely still be party to the Iran deal and the Paris Accords. Deregulation, another big accomplishment of the Trump Administration, would never have happened. Republicans would have likely prevented abuses of executive power by Hillary that they ignored under Donald Trump.

Some things would not have been different. With the Iranian threat to moderate Arab nations growing, the Middle East treaties might still have happened. In a Hillary presidency, Obamacare would still have not been repealed and there would still have been no border wall. Hillary Clinton would still not be locked up.

One of the other big differences would be the outlook for the current election. Rather than being on the brink of electoral disaster, Republicans would be poised to expand their hold on Congress and to elect a conservative president. Conservative America would be united against Hillary and the suburbs, seniors, and minorities would not be fleeing the Republican Party.

Hillary would also have probably responded better to the pandemic. Clinton would have been more likely to heed expert medical advice and follow the pandemic plan established by the National Security Council rather than winging it. The pandemic response might not have been politicized. Tens of thousands of lives might have been saved.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump represented mixed bags for America. In some areas, Hillary would have been worse, but in others, Trump has been the worse of the two.

There are two lessons here. One is that a Democratic president, even with control of Congress, won’t necessarily mean the end of America or an economic implosion. America is resilient and has been strong enough to withstand both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. We can also survive Joe Biden and/or Kamala Harris.

The second is that control of Congress is ultimately at least as important as controlling the White House, if not more so. Especially if President Trump loses the election, it is important for Republicans to maintain control of the Senate. Doing so will minimize the ability of a Democratic administration to enact radical progressive change.

Divided government would also encourage the parties to work together as the Founders intended. A government in which the two parties are at a standoff should be the goal of conservatives who truly believe in limited government since both parties have shown that they cannot be trusted with unchecked power.

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