- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — The next president walks into the Oval Office in January without the benefit of a vital political asset: a mandate for a governing agenda.

The stark divisions in the country only deepened as a result of the cutthroat campaigns waged by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, experts said, breeding ferocious opponents in Washington and throughout the citizenry to almost anything the 45th president hopes to accomplish.

“It is really concerning. We elect presidents to do stuff,” said Michael G. Miller, political science professor at Barnard College in New York City. “I think, in this election, it really feels like the opening salvo.”

A president typically earns a mandate with a resounding victory that demonstrates undisputed support for the agenda articulated during the campaign. The last candidate to achieve that was President Reagan in his landslide re-election win in 1984.

An overwhelming victory in the popular vote or in the Electoral College isn’t the only way to imbue a presidency with the authority to pursue an agenda. A solid majority supporting a candidate’s plans can be enough, as George W. Bush demonstrated by succeeding with most of his agenda despite losing the popular vote in 2000 and only prevailing after a bitterly contested recount in Florida.

“We generally think of somebody having a mandate when they win a significant margin of victory. I don’t know that even if we have something like that the victor can claim it because of the divided nature of the voters and the country at this point,” said Kathleen Dolan, a professor at University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee, whose research includes public opinion and political participation.

Indeed, voters at the polls Tuesday were just as likely to be voting against the opponent on the ballot as exercising support for their chosen candidate.

Independent voter Gus Paquarella, who cast his ballot for Mr. Trump at a public library here in the Philadelphia suburbs, described the election as a “terrible choice of candidates.”

“Hilary is too liberal. Hillary is too crooked,” said the 67-year-old lawyer. “I think we need change. Unfortunately, the message of change is not the one guy I would like. But I’ll give him a chance.”

Lew Bird, a retired college professor who taught medical ethics, said the presidential race was the “most disgraceful in my lifetime — and I’m 84 this Saturday.”

The independent voter said he cast his ballot for Mrs. Clinton because Mr. Trump is “ignorant.”

“There aren’t words enough to describe this jackass,” he said of Mr. Trump. “He has no experience in government. The vulgarity of his remarks — he put the election in the gutter in a way I’ve never seen in my lifetime.”

Marc Selverstone, chairman of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, said the begrudging support provided to the candidates was antithetical to creating a mandate.

“The electorate is so polarized, with numbers of supporters of both candidates seemingly holding their noses when they [vote], to permit the kind of running room a mandate would grant,” he said.

Cato Institute senior fellow Michael Tanner blamed the candidates themselves for undermining a mandate for the presidency.

“All candidates run to some degree on the ‘shining city on a hill’ and ‘hope and change,’ but issues actually do come up in most campaigns, and they’ve been largely absent in this one,” he said. “This has been the most character-driven campaign I’ve witnessed, and in part because you have such unsavory characters.”

Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.

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