In a few short years, two things to happen seem likely. The country will look back, fondly, at the Obama years. And many of the people who voted for Trump will deny they ever did.

Strap yourself in, friends, for what promises to be a wild ride during Trump’s first year, as he tries to roll back the clock on civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, health care and climate change, while also trying to reduce taxes on his billionaire friends and their struggling cousins, the lowly millionaires.

Wondering what the next year will look like? Look no further than eight years ago, when Republicans openly promised to block anything the incoming president tried to do. Now, reverse the roles of the two parties.

Republicans have argued that they were only being obstructionists because that’s what Democrats did when George W. Bush was elected. Democrats say Republicans did it first, when Bill Clinton was elected. And back it goes, in an endless cycle of “they started it” to the nasty fight between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

There will be some noise over Trump’s cabinet choices, but that is musket fire compared to what’s coming. Democrats will mostly hold their fire for the big fights over heath care, a massive defense buildup, tax cuts and this year’s sleeper issue, climate change.

Ironically, Trump’s biggest problems over the next few years may not be with Democrats as much as with traditional Republican fiscal and military hawks, who have spent decades fighting two things that Trump seems indifferent to: budget-busting programs and the Russian bear.

You’ll remember that most Republicans in Congress couldn’t even look at Trump, during the election, without wincing. They thought him ill-informed and ill-equipped to be president. Now, most of them are running around Congress with a gleeful giddiness that comes from newfound power and perks for your friends.

None of that will last long, once the Trump team gets down to specifics. Much of what Trump has promised, during the campaign, involves big spending that runs against Republican orthodoxy. We’ve already had a preview of what that means, as Trump’s promise to deliver the largest public works spending program in history lies dead on the floor of Congress. Trump didn’t know that wasn’t a Republican thing to do.

Republicans will agree on a variety of relatively small and symbolic things, like building something they’ll call a wall along the southern border, but the big promises from Trump, on trade, health care, military spending and taxes all carry the risk of exploding the national debt and plunging the country into a new recession.

Health care is shaping up as the first major migraine for Republicans. Trump has promised to “repeal and replace it.” Republicans are slathering over the repeal part, but lack any collective sense of what to replace it with.

Here are the political and practical realities for Republicans. Repealing Obamacare is politically popular among Republicans. But not replacing it is a huge political risk for 2018. That’s led some Republicans to propose a kind of sleight-of-hand card trick, in which they repeal Obamacare, with great fanfare, but don’t have that repeal kick in until after the next election cycle.

Trump this week said that repealing and replacing Obamacare should happen quickly and within “hours” of each other. Welcome to the real world, Mr. President. Congress is no reality show, and there isn’t a chance in the world of that happening.

So the first great fight in the Congress won’t be between Trump and Democrats. It will be between Trump and Republicans.

There are now 20 million people who have health insurance now who didn’t have it six years ago. The majority of them can afford it because they receive a subsidy. That subsidy is paid by a “mandate” that requires everyone to either buy insurance or pay a fine.

Republicans hate the mandate, but after watching the polls for a while, they’ve joined other Americans in liking some of the benefits of Obamacare, which Trump has promised to keep.

All of that leaves Republicans with some hard choices. Kick people off health care, and have them once again flood into emergency rooms, driving up insurance costs for everyone and risking a voter backlash in 2018. Keep some form of mandate but call it something else or fudge the numbers. Keep the good things in the current law and absorb trillions of dollars in new taxpayer spending. Or keep the framework of Obamacare but rename it RyanCare.

In other words, Republicans now have to pick their poison. Let’s hope they have health insurance.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

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