President Trump again tweeted his support for congressional term limits earlier this week, writing: “I recently had a terrific meeting with a bipartisan group of freshman lawmakers who feel very strongly in favor of Congressional term limits. I gave them my full support and endorsement for their efforts.”
The president may not realize it, but his support of term limits for members of Congress could give him his best chance of keeping GOP majorities in the House and Senate in the November elections and could play an important role in helping him to win re-election in 2020.
It’s no secret that President Trump is struggling in the polls. While his approval numbers vary – from 42 percent to 47 percent – the simple truth is that a majority of Americans do not support him. And although it’s true that his base of Republicans fervently believes in the president, the nation’s independents do not. And forget about the Democrats.
In fact, angry progressives are stacking up impressive special election victories across the country in not just left-leaning districts but those that President Trump won. Conservative seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Kentucky, New Hampshire and beyond are falling to Democrats.
The president’s challenge is how turn the tide on the Democratic victories. Common sense would dictate that he double-down on the issues that got him elected. Fundamentally, that means finding ways to blow up and reorder the nation’s dysfunctional political system.
Term limits would do just that. And Americans would love President Trump for getting the limits enacted.
Polling from the Gallup organization shows that voters of all stripes are dissatisfied with America’s poor leadership and the health of our government, labeling these issues as the most important to be addressed. And that was true even before President Trump’s election.
Not surprisingly, a wide array of Republicans, Democrats and independents agree that term limits would help fix these problems, with over 80 percent demanding such limits be imposed.
And yet, despite the idea’s overwhelming popularity, the odds of adoption are low without President Trump’s leadership.
First, term limits would require adoption of a constitutional amendment, a process that our Founding Fathers intended to be very difficult.
Amending the Constitution is even more challenging because one of the two paths forward requires approval by the Senate and the House. That means that long-serving members of Congress like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would effectively need to vote themselves out of office.
Predictably, officials like McConnell – and many others, on both sides of the aisle – are firmly opposed.
The other path to amending the Constitution is a convention called by two-thirds of state legislatures – an option never taken during passage of the 27 existing amendments. It’s an approach that two groups are currently organizing – one for a balanced budget, another for assorted demands that include term limits.
Either way, President Trump would have to get behind the multiyear amendment process with considerable time and money, and with the presidential bully pulpit. Draining the swamp would have to be his greatest domestic priority.
In normal times, it’s doubtful that a president would give more than lip service to the popular idea of term limits. And, in fact, that’s what most politicians have done. In the 1990s, when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., held a vote for term limits, virtually all Democrats and many Republicans shot it down.
But these are not normal times for our troubled nation and our unconventional president.
President Trump is mired in unproven allegations of collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential race, with no end in sight to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s widening investigation.
Meanwhile, the president’s signature policies on immigration – a travel ban affecting people from some majority-Muslim countries, a border wall with Mexico, and ending the DACA program that allows some illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to remain here – are all stuck in the courts, dead in Congress, or lack funding.
Finally, the president has proven to be deeply controversial as a person and leader, known for his unpredictable Twitter feuds and brash New Yorker style.
For these reasons (and a few others), President Trump’s poll numbers are under the 50 percent mark. And yet, if the president was serious in his call for term limits, this deeply popular idea might just be a springboard to resetting his relationship with the American people.
This might not be great news for my fellow Democrats, it’s true. But if that’s what it takes to get term limits, count me in as a reluctant cheerleader.