Legislating is often described as more art than science, but it’s really just grade-school arithmetic: Bills either have the votes needed to pass, or they don’t.
Republicans have a president in the White House and a numerical majority in Congress—237 seats out of the 430 currently occupied in the House, and 52 out of 100 in the Senate. In theory, that’s enough to run the show. “Welcome to the dawn of a new unified Republican government,” an ebullient House Speaker Paul Ryan declared to reporters the week after the November election.
He was using the word “unified” in a general sense. Republicans now had, in the presidency, the capstone to their decade-long crawl back to power in Washington. But as the last week has made abundantly clear, the idea of unification was wishful thinking, and mostly an illusion. As Ryan and Trump surveyed the results of the elections, they each seemed to see a much bigger victory than the GOP had actually won.
The president described his relatively narrow Electoral College margin—paired with a popular vote loss—as a “massive landslide.” And Ryan moved swiftly to enact a conservative agenda with Republican votes alone. He envisioned a GOP version of the Democrats’ legislative burst in 2009, when President Barack Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid teamed up to enact a major stimulus bill, the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform, and countless other more modest pieces of legislation in under two years.