Commentary: Happy new year, Mr. President

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – The easy part is over.

What follows now is going to be hard – brutally hard.

John Krull, publisher,

This, of course, is not what President Donald Trump seems to think, but this president works hard to keep facts or thoughtful analysis from intruding into his elaborately constructed fantasy world. Denial, it turns out, is not just a river in Africa but also a place called Mar-a-Lago.

The president has told CNN and others that the toughest part of his presidency is behind him. He said that getting his own party to vote with him on the tax cut package was the rough stuff. Persuading Democrats and Republicans to work together on infrastructure rebuilding and repealing what remains of the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – will be a breeze.

Or so Donald Trump says.

He’s wrong about that, of course.

Some of the reasons he’s wrong are generic.

Election years such as 2018 rarely are times for bipartisan cooperation. The two parties see elections as moments to draw distinctions – establish differences – and force voters to make choices.

The incentives for Democrats and Republicans to work together at such times are few and the motivations for them to do everything they can to undermine and undercut each other are many.

This always has been true, but it is truer still in this hyper-partisan era. The chances that Republicans and Democrats will link arms when the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court are in the balance are somewhere between nil and non-existent.

The coming year will be about who wins and who loses, not about who wants to sing kumbaya.

If anything, the battling and bloodletting will be even fiercer this election year because of the way this president has conducted himself and his presidency.

Democrats have no reason to work with Trump.

They don’t like him, they don’t trust him and, increasingly, they see him as both a fat target and a valuable campaign asset. They know that the animosity toward Trump among progressives rallies the Democratic Party’s base better than any Democratic candidate could.

The president may boast that Republicans have won all five House special elections since he took office, but, as is often the case, his boasts are based more on fantasy than fact. Those races were in congressional districts that were supposed to be solidly red, yet the antipathy to Trump and Republican policies turned several of those contests into nail-biters.

The races in Virginia and Alabama have been telling.

Trump touted that Republican Ed Gillespie lost because Gillespie didn’t embrace Trumpism. That doesn’t seem likely, but we’ll indulge the president on that one and let him rationalize the defeat any way he wants.

What he can’t explain is how the Virginia legislature, which was a two-to-one GOP stronghold prior to the election, became a body in which control of the chamber had to be determined by drawing lots from a hat.

Strong feelings about Trumpism unleashed a landslide in Virginia, just not in the direction the president wanted.

In Alabama – where Democrats have public approval ratings just slightly higher than communicable diseases – Republicans lost a U.S. Senate seat.

Alabama illustrates why Trump’s troubles are about to get worse.

The reason Republicans lost there is because sometime presidential Svengali and white nationalist Steve Bannon decided that beating up on other Republicans was even more fun than defeating Democrats.

Bannon has promised to take the fight to many other Republican strongholds around the country. Wherever he goes, disaster for the GOP will follow, because only three outcomes from Bannon’s efforts are possible.

The first is that the Republican incumbent Bannon tries to topple survives the attack and emerges believing he owes nothing to a president, even one of his own party, who couldn’t keep his pit bull leashed.

The second is Bannon succeeds and leaves behind him a band of resentful Republican lame ducks who see no reason to watch the back of a president who didn’t watch theirs.

The third is that these intramural battles so weaken the GOP that Democrats in red states become plausible candidates (think Alabama) and those in swing states (think Virginia) become favorites.

President Trump doubtless thought 2017 was a tough year.

He needs to think again.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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