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Commentary & Opinion

Bill Owens: Unite Behind Trump?

Vice president-elect, Mike Pence, has called on Americans to unite behind President-elect Trump.  He and the Trump campaign have claimed that the election was a “landslide,” “blowout” or that it was an “historic victory”.  The facts belie those claims.

Although Mr. Trump won the election by earning 306 of the 538 electoral votes, he lost the popular vote by approximately three million votes, and he received between three million and 6.5 million less votes than President Obama.  Mr. Trump’s Electoral College total was the fifth smallest since 1916 (21st out of 26).  President Clinton won 370 and 379 electoral votes in 1992 and 1996, respectively.  In 2008, President Obama garnered 365 electoral votes, and in 2012, 332 electoral votes.  These numbers do not strike me as particularly noteworthy and certainly do not conjure up superlatives like landslide, blowout, or historic.

Potentially of greater note is that Mr. Trump received 46 percent of the vote in November, but as of Sunday, January 15, 2017, he had an approval rating of 32 percent.  This is the lowest for any incoming president in recent memory.  Looking back on Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, Mr. Trump is almost 25 to 30 percentage points lower in his approval ratings at this stage.  This might cause reflection for the incoming Trump administration as to what is going on.  Clearly, there could be any number of factors, such as Mr. Trump’s constant tweeting, his handling of the Russian cyber-attack, his negative comments about the intelligence community, his castigation of John Lewis (for challenging his legitimacy—think the birther controversy), his threats on trade, and maybe even his approach to corporations, in particular the auto industry, which he threatens on an almost weekly basis.  His irrational vitriol and thin skin are becoming more and more evident.

I find it almost ironic, but actually painful, that Mr. Pence calls for unity when, in 2008 (and also in 2012), Mr. Obama won with substantially more of the popular vote and Electoral College votes than Mr. Trump.  Yet the Republican reaction, as embodied in Mitch McConnell’s now famous statement that his “job was to make Mr. Obama a one-term president,” and as observed through my own experiences in Congress, was that few, if any, Republicans voted anything other than the straight party line against anything proposed by President Obama.  Did Mr. Pence ever unite behind President Obama?  There are a few of my friends, the moderates, who did, in fact, vote across party lines, but the reaction of their caucus was incredibly negative to those votes.  I won’t say Democrats were always happy with my votes, but in the main, they understood that my job was to represent my district, which was more conservative than most of theirs.  I simply did my job and was not threatened nor berated. 

A call for unity by a president with low vote totals, a historically low margin in the Electoral College, and who for years pushed the “birther” issue, questioning the legitimacy of President Obama, is a shock to common sense.  To my former colleagues:  Are you serious?  Can you say this with a straight face after the last eight years?

Mr. Trump should focus on what is important.  Why is he not focusing on a major infrastructure bill and creating those jobs that he so loudly trumpeted during the campaign?  Certainly I understand the need for Republicans to act on Obamacare, although I disagree with repealing it unless they offer a better plan in place of it.  Some difficult questions have surfaced. Cover everyone how?  Will reducing tax rates, expanding military spending, providing health care for all, and increasing infrastructure spending reduce the debt and deficit?

Mr. Trump asking Democrats who are boycotting the inauguration for their tickets gave me a real laugh and showed he may just have a sense of humor.  Maybe tweeting jokes would be a better approach, but let’s hope we stop tweeting and get serious. 

Mr. Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st and a Senior Advisor to Dentons.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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