I am going to be as honest with readers as I am to people who come up to me in person. I honestly don’t know what to make of Donald Trump as President. There are clearly hints as to the broad direction he wishes to take on certain policies, but so much of these hints and tweets are enigmatic. Is he blowing smoke or is he for real?
First and foremost, let’s dismiss the fact that the Republicans control both houses of Congress so the first 100 Days of the Trump Era will be a honeymoon. This looks more to me like the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard and Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie marriages than a love fest. So Mr. Trump wants a big tax cut, as does the GOP, but already the Congressional leadership is asking who will pay for this? They won’t, it appears, reduce taxes without concomitant budget cuts – something sure to get blowback from a new President who feels the need to be listed as among the greatest Presidents of all time – or he will lose interest. Both sides want and need an infrastructure bill, something Mr. Trump promised, but again Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to not consider one unless it is paid dollar for dollar with budget cuts.
Obamacare is first on the list to be repealed, but we already know about this saga of “repeal” (the easy part) vs. “replace” (something that the GOP has promised for 8 years and has not come up with yet). Mr. Trump appears to be alone among his “fellow Republicans” (a term that also shows sharp disagreement among party leaders and members) by wanting to keep some key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
And then there is Mr. Trump and Russia and the intelligence community. Once again, the President-elect is at odds with senior figures in his own party – just as he was during his campaign. While a President, by the Constitution, has the sole authority to conduct foreign policy and diplomacy – and to change the direction of both as he sees fit – it can be very different if there is strong opposition from powerful Congressional leaders and from the lifers within the State Department. Just ask Woodrow Wilson, who never got his League of Nations, and Barack Obama, whose “red line” in Syria moved back and back… and back.
Now Congressional leaders also recognize that they have to govern and need to, in a piece of jargon that I hate, “put points on the board” – but there has been little love within the GOP itself. The House foolishly voted to strip the independent Ethics Committee even though this flaky move was strongly opposed by the man they had just re-elected as their Speaker. Within 24 hours, a tweet from Mr. Trump and a backlash from their own constituents forced them to back off that move. But what a way for Congress to start their first day of power.
Finally, we can look at the (mostly) men that are being nominated for Cabinet positions. On the surface we see Mr. Trump’s devotion to nonrenewable fuels, depth of opposition to Obamacare, challenge to global warming science, commitment to charter schools – and more traditional conservative Holy Grails. On the other hand, we also see a new Secretary of State designate who favors a carbon tax, support from the President-elect for at least some key provisions of Obamacare, and a backing away from the size of his border wall and the numbers of deportees. And then there is Ivanka – the resident “liberal” in the mix.
In short, don’t be fooled by facile predictions about what will happen. We witnessed that during the campaign, didn’t we?