Is Trump better for Democrats than Clinton?

It might seem an unlikely proposition, but if Democrats imagine the decade ahead if Clinton had won, they may be glad that Clinton lost. This is based on a couple of assumptions:

  1. The president’s party loses seats at every other level of government
  2. The president doesn’t actually have that much power

For the first point you can see how many losses there have been for Democrats since 2008. Losing the House and the Senate, as well as over a thousand state legislators and going from 29 governors to 16.1 This isn’t unique to Democrats, since 1944 the president’s party has lost, on average, 8 seats in the Senate, 36 in the House and over 450 state legislator seats.2 

For the second point there is less hard evidence but even with executive orders, the majority are either statements of intent or actions that will have to be passed through congress.3  The president does have more power than any other person, but not 100% and probably not even 10%. It’s not just the other branches of government, it’s also state governments, media, lobbyists, industry, the bureaucracy and even the White House is split between various groups.4 

If we take these two assumptions as plausible and think how the next decade will pan out we can see two very different scenarios. If Clinton had won there would still be a Republican House and Senate and it would be hard to pass legislation on areas Democrats care about. It’s likely there would be continued election losses for Democrats as their usual voters would be less motivated to vote and in 2020 the Republicans would take control of every level of government. They could be even more entrenched with a less divisive figure than Trump and have the presidency until 2028.

Alternatively, with Trump winning in 2016, there seems to have been a large mobilisation of Democrats, registered voters more likely to turn out,  more likely to volunteer, volunteers more likely to organise and go to town halls and stand for election.5 There is potential for the House to be lost in 2018 and for Democrats to sweep more seats in a 2020 election against a figure at least as motivating as Obama and Clinton were for Republicans.

If Clinton had won, it’s likely Democrats would have to wait until 2028 until they control the Presidency and Congress whereas now there is a higher chance it could happen 8 years earlier, rather than waiting nearly two decades since they last held all three in 2010.