© Josh Sager – May 2016
The term “triangulation” was coined by Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, Dick Morris, to describe their administration’s tactic of seeking bipartisan agreement. According to Morris, a triangulated position is “a position that not only blends the best of each party’s views but also transcends them to constitute a third force in the debate.” Understanding this term is absolutely key to accurately assessing what each potential presidential administration could realistically achieve is if elected.
Depending upon the post-election distribution of power—presidency, House and Senate—there is a staggeringly wide distribution of outcomes. Power is likely to be divided between the parties and potentially very little will get done, but there are clear areas of agreement where the passage of new policies is possible. The following Venn diagram illustrates some of the triangulated issues between each potential power divide. The areas of intersection between each group identify areas of policy agreement that may allow for deal-making and progress/regress.
Here are a few examples that illustrate how to read this:
- If Trump is elected president and Republicans control both the Senate and House, we are most likely to see the passage of policies from the bottom two areas of intersection (GOP/Trump and GOP/Hillary)—e.g. advancing huge tax cuts, codified Islamophobia, “welfare reform” and tough on crime laws. Even though he (currently) supports a few populist policies that align with Bernie’s agenda, these would almost certainly be impossible to push, as his party would go along with his leadership (e.g. even if Trump and his supporters get behind the idea of removing money from politics, the GOP would never agree).
- If Hillary is elected president, the Senate is controlled by the Democrats, and the House is controlled by the Republicans, she would most likely seek agreement over issues in the lower-right area of intersection. This is exactly what her husband did when he was president (e.g. welfare reform, NAFTA, etc.), and she is advised by many of the same political strategists as her he was. While Hillary will try to advance the policies in the upper-right area of intersection, these policies are anathema to the right wing and she would have an extremely hard time advancing any of those priorities. That said, she could use executive power to advance several of these policies (e.g. continuing Obama’s immigration executive actions) even though new legislation is impossible.
- If Bernie is elected president and the Democrats manage to secure control over both the House and Senate he would have the easiest time pushing policies in the top-right area of intersection (Bernie/Hillary). This is because Bernie will have to secure the support of the Democratic establishment which is currently embodied by Hillary Clinton and will have a hard time pushing policies that they do not support. That said, it is possible that he may be able to advance populist policies (e.g. getting money out of politics and stopping “free” trade deals) through the use of executive authority, judicial appointments, and blocking legislation that is detrimental to these causes.
Areas where there is no overlap (Hillary/Trump and Bernie/GOP) represent divided governments where there is virtually no agreement on major policies, thus it is hard to predict what could happen. While it is possible that some level of horse-trading and log-rolling could allow legislation to be passed, the most likely result in these situations is complete federal paralysis. We saw this exact dynamic play out in 2010, when populist Republicans (Tea Partiers) were elected en mass and essentially shut down the government to obstruct the establishment Democratic president.
When reading this diagram, it is important to note that Trump and Hillary both have histories of radically shifting their policy preferences (e.g. Hillary opposed gay equality and supported a border wall up until several years ago), thus it is possible that some of their policy positions will shift in the future. In fact, I would be willing to bet a considerable amount of money that Trump will shift dramatically to the left for the general election (e.g. increasing the minimum wage, drug legalization, etc.) while Hillary will edge away from some of her progressive positions that she championed in the primary (e.g. gun reform).