Using Triangulation to Predict the Consequences of a Trump, Hillary, or Bernie Presidency

© 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).

7 thoughts on “Using Triangulation to Predict the Consequences of a Trump, Hillary, or Bernie Presidency

  1. The overlaps are interesting but I would suggest a few corrections.
    Since the GOP is now splintered I don’t think it is entirely accurate to portray the party as a whole as “extreme right”. It certainly has a great deal of those elements. of course.While the Tea Party types have been able to stop government from functioning they have not had the power, even within the GOP to actually take radical actions. Hopefully that will continue.
    Regarding a few points on the Clinton-GOP overlap.
    1. Pro fracking. Inaccurate. Clinton has made three important provisos concerning fracking. She opposes fracking in any state or locality that opposes fracking. She opposes fracking when contamination of water is present or methane is released. She opposes fracking unless all the chemicals being used are disclosed. So, she does not support unregulated and unlimited fracking, as does the GOP. A very big difference.
    2. She and Sanders overlap on the topic of negotiating drug prices. In her 2008 campaign she proposed negotiating drug prices for Medicare. I think Sanders also wants to do this. This overlap is not shown.
    3. Clinton is given an overlap with the GOP on “Market Healthcare”. This is one I really do not understand. She is very clear that she supports and wants to expand in Obamacare. The GOP has voted to eliminate Obamacare over 50 times, I think. To suggest that she and the GOP have any overlap on this issue is a bit puzzling. She wants to expand the federal role, they want to eliminate the entire program.
    4. The analysis states that Clinton and Trump have a history of changing their positions. That is true. Most politicians respond to changing times. But Sanders also has changed his positions. For example, while always a supporter of gay rights, it was not until 2009 that he finally supported gay marriage. Until then he said that marriage was solely a state issue. At one point he voted to shield gun manufacturers from lawsuits (2005), then he changed that during the campaign to support that Dem bill. Not a criticism of Sanders, all politicians need to reevaluate positions as times change.
    5. The analysis says that Clinton voted for a “border fence” in 2006. She did. But Sanders also voted for the 700 mile border fence as part of the 2013 “border surge” amendment.
    6. The diagram shows absolutely no overlap between Sanders and the GOP. Yet, Sanders voted numerous times against the Brady bill and considered it a federal overreach regarding gun control. A big GOP overlap.Gun control is ignored on the diagram.
    7. Regarding marijuana laws. Both Sanders and Clinton support relaxing laws concerning marijuana. Bernie goes to decriminalization, Yet, this diagram puts marijuana in the Clinton-GOP overlap. Hardly. And Trump, who changed his position and now is opposed to the Colorado legalization is not given an overlap with the GOP.
    All in all, an interesting set of diagrams. While I understand that the author is a Bernie supporter, I do think that some of these “overlaps” significantly misinterpret Clinton’s positions. This seems like an attempt to paint Clinton as having a very wide range of issues that are supported by the GOP, which is simply not the case.
    According to NY Times Clinton and Sanders voted together 93% of the time in the Senate. The diagram certainly does not reflect that .


  2. He is a populist and an authoritarian, but a fascist, give me a fucking break. The word has almost lost all meaning.
    Most historians who studied fascism have denounced him from that charge.


    • The foremost historian on fascism, Robert Paxton, does not call Trump a “fascist”. He does point out, however, that there are elements in Trump’s approach and programs that are fascist. Some examples: the dependence on extreme nationalism; scapegoating of foreigners; the call for a return to some glorious past;an aggressive foreign policy. He also points out that the two main fascist leaders of the 20th century, Hitler and Mussolini, were inconsistent in the application of their political philosophies. In other words, they told the people what they wanted to hear . (Of course, that is somewhat true of most politicians). Identifying Trump as a “fascist” probably goes too far, but his technique does have a fascist element. His “tough talk” and “Make Germany…er…America Great Again” do echo the language of the fascists.

      Not sure why anyone would suggest Trump is a “populist”, except in the very narrow confines of the right wing of the GOP. For example, he opposes a fair wage, unions, a woman’s right to choose (depending on what speech you hear) and a fair tax system.


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