Coverage of the presidential race is supposed to get serious after Labor Day. But the current saturation coverage of coughing fits, candy metaphors, and whether or not one candidate is “copying” the other is testing that hypothesis to its breaking point. Buried in the empty calorie coverage of titillating gaffes and bottomless scandals is what precisely either of these candidates intends to do after he or she has taken the oath of office.

So far, both candidates have benefited from an electorate that appears uninterested in the issues, policies, or governance in general. To the extent that the candidates have focused the voters on their preferred governing platforms, both have done so without much public pressure to make the dots connect.

Trump is running a notoriously vapid campaign and has avoided specifics at just about every turn. The celebrity candidate’s issues page includes a pledge to ignite a “trade war,” a promise to fight political correctness, end the “drug epidemic” and, of course, build the wall—the hows of all of which are maddeningly vague. In the case of Trump’s new pledge to expand the entitlement state to provide new mothers with paid maternity leave, the campaign has admitted the details haven’t even been written down. Experts who have looked into Trump’s barstool promises have found them improbable, and the costs associated with his expensive pledges have no offsets. Not only does the Trump campaign regard a governing agenda as an afterthought, but it’s also clear the Trumpians believe they don’t have to devote much time to making their scant policy preferences feasible.

Clinton is acting as though she is drowning the public in the granular details of umpteen policy proposals. She and her running mate, Tim Kaine, have supposedly written a 249-page book outlining their policy preferences for the next four years. Its dismal sales numbers suggest few are interested. The Clinton campaign is fond of promoting the large number of issues their candidate proposes to address on her website, but these word typhoons consist of smoke that masks a lack of substance.

Liberal columnists have observed that Clinton’s childcare plan is no plan at all. Much of her anti-poverty proposal consists of redirecting federal investment into poorer neighborhoods and creating federally funded public works programs. Call them “shovel-ready jobs.” Her own campaign manager insisted on Wednesday that he’s not at liberty to discuss policy when it comes to the humanitarian nightmare in Aleppo, which only reveals that the Clinton campaign has no policy to address that crisis.

This may be an asset in a campaign but it’s a liability in office. What kind of mandate will either of these candidates have if elected? It will likely be limited to whatever they can push through Congress. As things stand today, either candidate would enter office weak and unloved, and they’ll find themselves more reliant on Congress than either would probably like. Which means they’ll find themselves boxed in by a legislative branch they have largely antagonized.

To the extent that Trump even speculates about his relationship with Congress as president, it is in his pledge to “make great deals” with the legislature—an admission that reveals a conspicuous disregard for how that unwieldy herd of self-interested felines operates. Congress is still populated with Republican majorities made up of members who were slow to embrace Donald Trump. The House Speaker is advancing a conservative shadow agenda that is antithetical to Trump’s pledges to expand entitlements, repeal sequestration, and sink $500 billion into stimulus projects. A Republican Congress would not be likely to oppose Trump’s agenda, to the extent one exists, but the legislature would also be partners, if not principals, shaping it. Whatever Ivanka wants isn’t going to pass muster.

As for Clinton, the makeup of the next Congress will matter a great deal, but the former first lady will not have anything like the compliant Democratic majorities Barack Obama enjoyed in the early part of his first term. As the race stands today, the GOP House will remain a Republican-controlled body, and the GOP’s Senate incumbents are running strong campaigns that still might maintain Republican control of the upper chamber. Even if Democrats narrowly retake the Senate, the landscape for the party in the 2018 midterms is a daunting one for Clinton. Her agenda will only pass with the support of congressional Republicans, and they’ll want a substantial buy-in for the favor.

Most important, whoever becomes the 45th president is likely to be the most unpopular new president in a generation. He or she will be weak, not all that popular in his or her own party (to say nothing of the opposition), and distrusted by the general public—and that will be the honeymoon phase. He or she will need the support of their political opponents for their actions to be viewed as legitimate. Regardless of who wins in November, Congress is likely to be a more powerful institution than it has been in the last eight years.

Donald Trump
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