One more week of Beltway Christmas parties, followed by a week of faith, and football, and then the nation’s capital reconvenes in a still-stunned state.
No less an American icon than Henry Winker — from “Happy Days” to “Arrested Development” to a sleigh full of fine films — tweeted a question last week: “Why does our political underpinning seem so ‘shifting sand unsettling’ at his moment?” A good question, that, and one we will discuss together on Monday’s program, but here’s a first whack.
First, never before in modern times have both parties and the media been so thoroughly surprised by the result in a political election. One or two but never all three of the GOP, the Democrats and mainstream media have been jolted in years past — 1980, 1994, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2014 — but 2016 was Thor’s hammer to everybody’s expectations. The result when everybody’s wrong is that nothing seems very certain. No pronouncement is very credible, no forecast all that reliable.
Second, transitions where 4,000 powerful people pack up and leave and 4,000 new ones arrive in Washington are rare at best, and the last GOP landing-in-force was January 2001 and before that 1981. “Who are these people?” is on many lips. Because I interview everyone from the responsible right to the responsible left of my radio show, I and my audience are already familiar with many of the new people, from Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder — headed off to the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Labor respectively — as well as Rep/ Ryan Zinke and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, bound for the Department of Interior and the National Security Council.
If you have met and discussed issues with people outside of the transition context, you aren’t prone to fall for caricatures of them when their names rocket up the power charts.
Finally, nothing is happening right now that is normal or routine, and people generally hate the lack of routine. But that will change soon. Very soon. Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the most charming and normal of fellows always, joined me last week on air to discuss what’s ahead. “I think we’re probably going to lead with Obamacare repeal and then replace, then we will have tax, you know, we’ll have a small tax reform package, and then a bigger tax reform package at the end of April,” Priebus responded to my question about what was ahead. “So I think what you’re looking at is between two tax reform packages and reconciliation in the first nine months, you’re looking at what essentially comes down to, like, three basically different budget packages.”
“And so it’s going to be a ton of work,” the new chief of staff continued. “Not to mention, you’ve got Cabinet secretary appointments, a Supreme Court appointment, and you know the Senate calendar, how frustrating that can be. So it’s going to be a busy year starting with the first nine months being very much consumed through Obamacare and tax reform.”
Now that, my friends, is normal. Healthcare legislation. Tax legislation. A Supreme Court nomination. 14 Circuit Court vacancies. A budget, even one by incoming Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a genuine fiscal conservative, will still be a familiar thing to D.C. and thus the country.
This is the stuff we are used to, and President Trump will be far more similar to than different from past presidents. Yes there will be tweets, and perhaps some legislative surprises — I argue for such surprises in a new book coming out next month, in fact — but all of it very much part of a 200 year-old set of rhythms to which government beats except in the darkest of times.
So enjoy the eggnog and the family dinners. “Winter is coming” is from “Game of Thrones” — a television show based on fantasy novels — and not American history. In the United States, a budget is coming. And that gets pretty boring pretty quickly. Or at least routine. Relax, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.