BY NIALL STANAGE – 12/11/16
It’s one month since Donald Trump won the presidency, and supporters and opponents alike are grappling with what comes next.
The election itself was pitched into new controversy this weekend after a Washington Post report asserted that the CIA now believes Russia meddled in the campaign in order to help Trump win.
The allegation that Russia was involved in underhand actions is not new, but previous reports suggested that the Kremlin had been seeking to sow doubt with the American public rather than trying specifically to help Trump.
The Russia story is still playing out. But there were other, more conventional questions that swirled from the moment Trump won the White House. How will the man respond to the burden, and privileges, of the job? What policies will he pursue? What kind of people will he gather around him?
Some of those questions have been answered; many others have not. Here’s a rundown.
Five things we know:
Trump will have the most conservative Cabinet in modern history
His selections strong suggest that the Trump administration will be to the right of any Republican in the modern era.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), his choice to be attorney general, is regarded as a hardliner on illegal immigration even by fellow members of the Senate GOP. His pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, has previously sued the agency. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, is a fervent supporter of charter schools over their public counterparts.
Even if Trump seeks to appoint a more moderate Republican or even a Democrat to the remaining jobs in his Cabinet, the ideological cast of his administration is set.
He will be as combative as ever
Pundit predictions during the campaign that Trump would “pivot” to a more conventional footing became a running joke, largely because they were so quickly proved wrong.
Similarly, suggestions that Trump would adopt a more conventionally presidential persona as he prepares to take office appear no closer to the mark.
Trump has already used his Twitter account to blast everyone from Boeing to a local union leader in Indiana. His speeches on his “thank you” tour include the same kind of jabs at the media that were heard during the primary campaign. He even seems reluctant to leave behind his reality TV career, as this week it emerged that he would continue to be credited as executive producer of “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Trump is not going to shrink from verbal combat — or from doing what he likes more generally.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will be power players
Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband were perhaps Trump’s closest advisors during the campaign, even if they held no title. The couple’s decision to move to D.C. underlines that they will be staying part of the inner circle, officially or not.
So will Vice President-elect Pence
Pence took a considerable gamble in becoming Trump’s running mate, and it paid off in a big way.
The Indiana governor will be pivotal in the administration. It was his intervention that paved the way for the Trump transition’s biggest moment — the decision by heating and air conditioning company Carrier to keep several hundred jobs in Indiana rather than moving them to Mexico.
Pence is also crucial to Trump’s success because of his familiarity with Capitol Hill and his contacts there. He served six terms in the House.
Trump will keep trying to drive the news
Even Trump’s detractors concede that his ability to set the news agenda is unparalleled. There are no signs that he will give that up for the sake of being considered a more conventional president.
His blast at Boeing, complaining on Twitter and later in person that the company was “doing a little bit of a number” on the costs of a replacement for Air Force One, was a perfect example. The flap dominated the news for 24 hours and overshadowed earlier questions that the Boeing CEO had raised about Trump’s view of trade.
Trump’s headline-hogging persona infuriates his detractors but it is a real political asset.
Five things we don’t know:
How he will deal with Congress
Despite having Pence as an emissary to Capitol Hill, much still remains uncertain.
Trump had tense relationships with Republican lawmakers throughout his campaign — especially so in the case of Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.). The party establishment is showing a more united front behind Trump these days, but there are bound to be choppy waters ahead. When that happens, will Trump try to work with Congress, or twist arms with public pressure? No one really knows.
How he will react to a crisis
Democrats have always insisted that Trump is unprepared for the office he will soon assume.
Much of Hillary Clinton’s TV advertising sought to paint Trump as a dangerous choice. President Obama seized on reports in the campaign’s closing days that Trump’s advisors had sought to limit his access to Twitter. “If your closest advisers don’t trust you to tweet, then how can we trust him with the nuclear codes?” Obama asked.
Trump has long argued that his career in business prepares him for the challenges of the presidency. But he won’t be proven right or wrong until his first big crisis arrives.
His top policy priority
During the campaign, Trump slogans such as “Build the wall” and “Drain the swamp” became almost as well known as his official motto, “Make American Great Again.”
But how will that translate into policy action? Trump and Republicans in Congress are eager to start the new era with a quick repeal of ObamaCare. But even some Republican lawmakers say it could take as long as three or four years to get a full alternative to the White House.
Will Trump focus on immigration? Or tax reform? Or trade?
How much political capital does he have?
Trump’s win was a seismic event, coming in the face of opinion polls projecting his defeat, a better-funded opponent, and support from his own party that was lukewarm at best.
But if Trump can fairly claim he proved almost everyone wrong, that doesn’t mean the months ahead will be smooth sailing.
He is likely to enter office as the least popular president of modern times. A Pew Research Group poll released on Friday gave him an approval rating of 41 percent, a night-and-day difference from President Obama’s 72 percent rating in December 2008.
The fact that Trump lost the popular vote by a significant margin — almost three million votes — raises legitimate questions about whether he has a true mandate. Many liberals don’t merely disagree with him; they see him as a threat to democracy itself.
In aggregate, that could have big implications for Trump’s ability to navigate through the difficult times that afflict every president.
How he will deal with conflicts of interest
Trump famously refused to open up his tax returns to public scrutiny during the campaign. Now he has been elected, his sprawling business empire is a hot issue.
During a sit-down with New York Times staff, he insisted that “the law’s totally on my side” in suggesting there was nothing he was obligated to do to separate himself from his businesses. Now, however, he says he will hold a Dec. 15news conference at which he may distance himself to some degree.
It appears that Trump might simply pass the running of his businesses to his children. That would not be sufficient to quiet the voices that express ethical concerns.