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Presidential hopefuls will be 'frustrated' in office, professor tells St. Vincent crowd

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, 10:33 p.m.

Don't count on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump delivering on vows only they can make America better if elected president, a political science professor told a St. Vincent College audience Wednesday.

It is far more likely the winner will not fulfill all campaign promises and will fall far short of being a change agent, Benjamin Kleinerman, a constitutional democracy professor at Michigan State University, told more than 260 people on the Unity campus for a discussion on presidential politics.

“They both are going to be frustrated that they won't be able to change government,” Kleinerman said. “Once they get in, they will see the limits of their power.”

The two leading presidential candidates have built up a set of expectations that can't be fulfilled, he said.

As for Trump's promises to change how government operates, Kleinerman said, “I don't think he fully understands the limitations of presidential power.”

Even if the new president's party controls both the House and Senate, the margins tend to be so slim that the minority party can mount a filibuster to frustrate the majority, Kleinerman said at the Civitas Forum.

The current political atmosphere will hamper either Trump, the Republican candidate, or Clinton, the Democrat, in working with the opposition party to get anything accomplished in a dysfunctional federal government, Kleinerman said.

“Working with the other side is to betray your team,” he said.

A prime example is how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, famously said before the mid-term elections in 2010 that his most important goal was to make President Obama a one-term president, Kleinerman said.

When the most important goal of the opposition party in Congress is to oppose a president, it ensures that “nothing gets done,” he added.

Rather than a Congress that seeks to pass legislation, the polarization and obstructionism is so great that “they are fighting about who gets the presidency,” Kleinerman said.

By running a populist-style campaign, Trump has drawn support from tens of millions of Americans who feel left behind or dispossessed, said Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

“They feel the American promise doesn't work for them,” Olsen said.

The polarization between the Republican and Democratic parties is probably as extreme “as any time since the Civil War,” said Marc Landy, a Boston College political science professor.

To get government functioning in an era of polarization, progressives must accept the “inconvenient notion of moderation,” ... building consensus on a policy “rather than shoving it down their throat,” like the Affordable Care Act, which was passed without any Republican votes, Landy said.

Conservatives, on the other hand, may have to accept that “not all problems in society are solved by getting government off your back,” Landy noted.Some of the most profound socioeconomic problems the nation faces will need government action that, as an “inconvenient necessity,” likely will cost money, Landy said.

If conservatives or progressives become so dissatisfied with the Republican or Democratic parties that they want to launch a third-party political movement, Landy held out little hope that course would succeed.

“It's just not there. Elections are so hostile to a third party,” he said. “There could be a short one, but it won't stick.”

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or

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