A Few Modest Predictions for 2017

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In the movie The Patriot, Benjamin Martin counsels his children before they open fire on the Redcoats: “Aim small, miss small.”

Martin’s wisdom extends to the practice of making predictions about the future, especially on the heels of a year known for surprises, such as the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency.

Predictions are difficult to make in any year. Statistician Nate Silver analyzed 1,000 predictions made by pundits on the show The McLaughlin Group and all of the panelists’ predictions were wrong half of the time. “Aim small, miss small” should be the motto of every pundit. In that spirit, consider the following small predictions.

1. The Republican Faithful Will Find a New Democrat to Hate

Many die-hard Republicans vehemently hate President Barack Obama and they hate Hillary Clinton even more. The hatred feels more intense in recent years, a reflection of America’s polarized partisan politics. However, hatred of Clinton seems to be more intense than partisan Democratic hatred of prominent Republicans, although that may be changing with the ascension of Trump.

Widespread and extreme hatred of political opponents is incompatible with a properly-functioning democratic republic. Although Clinton hatred was the primary fare, Trump sometimes channeled this hatred against fellow Republicans such as Paul Ryan, as well as media personality Megyn Kelly. People consumed by hatred can be more easily manipulated by demagogues and tyrants.

Now that Clinton has departed the political stage and Obama will soon follow her, the intense hatred of them will subside. The hatred will require a new foil. In the past, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sometimes served in this role.

However, the most likely candidate for Most Hated Democratic Politician is soon-to-be Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Sen. Schumer is frequently sharply critical of Republican leaders and his lecturing, accusatory rhetoric won’t go over well with partisans on the other side of the aisle.  A caveat: Schumer and Trump have known each other for years and are reportedly on friendly terms. If Trump and Schumer maintain a cordial relationship, it is less likely that Schumer will become the focus of rank-and-file Republican scorn.

2. Trump Won’t Be Impeached Anytime Soon

Trump opponents attempted to convince Electoral College electors to vote for someone other than Trump, but that plan failed. Now some Democrats are hoping that Trump will be impeached. Distinguished constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe argues that Donald Trump will be impeachable the moment he takes the oath of office on January 20, because his continuing receipt of monetary benefits from foreign powers via Trump Organization business interests will violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

Trump is a political Houdini, so, at least in the near term, he will escape accountability for virtually any allegation of incompetence or corruption. His recklessness with facts will permit him to create an alternate reality embraced by many supporters that will explain away alleged high crimes and misdemeanors.

Moreover, impeachment will not happen with a Republican Congress in charge, at least not without an overwhelming case and serious political consequences for inaction. In the current polarized political environment, Republican leaders will vigorously defend Trump because he is a Republican. Most Congressional Republicans will not be in a hurry to investigate Trump administration scandals. Republican control of the House and Senate is likely safe through the fall of 2020, no matter what Trump does, so no leverage will exist to convince Republicans to hold impeachment hearings.

3. Trump Will Be Very Unpredictable

About the only thing that can be predicted with confidence is that Trump will act unpredictably. If Trump governs in the manner he conducted his campaign and the transition, expect the unexpected. One day he will be building a consensus on legislation with Hill leaders and the next he will castigate those same leaders on Twitter. No one should be surprised if Trump strikes deals with Democratic congressional leaders or vetoes legislation (even unrelated legislation) until he receives a bill that he is willing to sign.

4. Pundits Won’t Stop Making Predictions or Being Wrong

Silver released his study of The McLaughlin Group pundits’ prediction accuracy in 2012, but the McLaughlin pundits still made predictions every week until John McLaughlin’s death at the age of 89 on August 16, 2016. Commentator Dick Morris has an infamously-poor prediction track record, but he made those predictions on Fox News for many years before his contract was not renewed in 2013 (and it is not clear that his prediction competency was the reason).

Pundit predictions without qualification or strong supporting evidence tend to be either an effort to influence public opinion or simply entertainment. Poor predicting ability, rather than “being out of touch with people in Middle America,” is the more likely reason for why Trump’s election victory was not predicted by most political pundits (inaccurate polling in swing states in the final days of the campaign didn’t help). Predictions by pundits and politicians were rarely more accurate than chance before Trump ran for President, but his election has exposed the fallibility of predictions.

 

Currently the principal of Everest Law Firm in Alexandria, Virginia, Kris Hammond has served as an attorney for a district court judge, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the U.S. Department of Justice in its Civil Rights Division. He has run for office twice and was an elected delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.