I have consistently criticized — and ridiculed — Donald Trump. Now he will be president. Stop crying or cheering for a minute, and consider what might happen next. I have. Like a true analyst, I put emotion aside and make some sober predictions. At the heart of this analysis: Donald Trump is no Republican, and owes nobody anything.
If you are a supporter of Hillary Clinton and want to continue to lick your wounds, I feel you. I watched while most of my friends traded Facebook posts on how awful Donald Trump is. It’s not that I disagree — the number of loathsome, terrifying, and deplorable things he said was frightening.
But now he is free.
He has no responsibility or loyalty to the Republican Party. He is free to go in any direction that he thinks makes sense.
He has no responsibility to keep his promises. He repeatedly contradicted his own earlier statements, and it didn’t cost him.
He may even become free of some of his vindictive nature. Trump likes to win. He just won. Perhaps he will concentrate on savoring that, rather than inflicting pain on his past enemies. His victory speech was gracious.
Campaigning is about image and making promises. Trump played that game and won. Governing as president is about solving problems. Trump’s opponent now is the entrenched federal bureaucracy and the Congress. With that in mind, here are some things that could happen:
- Trump will not destroy the government. Our government is robust. It survived an ineffectual Jimmy Carter, a senile late Ronald Reagan, a philandering Bill Clinton, and a dopey George W. Bush. It will survive a volcanic Trump. Congress will not follow Trump over a cliff. Strangely, I think that Democrats and Republicans will find common ground in resisting the most irrational impulses of this president, to preserve their own power as well as preserving the union. The Supreme Court will not do his bidding. Ask those who lived through Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California. Governments move slowly, and Trump will not be able to change that.
- He and his working class followers will take over the Republican Party. Trump won with union members, rural voters, and white men, not with the moneyed patrician class. He is a protectionist against free trade. His support of social conservatism is opportunistic, not heartfelt. The new Republican party will be the party of disenfranchised workers, not business. Corporate interests will lose power because they will no longer have a party behind them.
- Racism and violence will not prevail. These were positions that energized Trump’s base. The deplorables rose up to smite Hillary Clinton. But while riots, racist slogans, and armed protests served candidate Trump, they’ll hurt President Trump. He is no longer against the establishment — he is at its head. Trump will repudiate the worst of his followers when and if they become a problem.
- War on gays and choice? I don’t think so. Trump’s embrace of social conservatism was always a pose. He can only get so much done. I don’t think he will push or even get behind new federal abortion laws, defunding Planned Parenthood, ending gay marriage, or bathroom rules. Trade and business is what he cares about. Except this: his Supreme Court Justices must pass a Republican Senate. So that is where the battle will be fought.
- He could actually reform campaign finance. This is a “drain the swamp” issue that Congress will not lead on. It’s perfect for Trump to make his mark. Trump will appoint a Supreme Court Justice who will reverse “Citizens United.” He will take on Democrats and Republicans on this, which would be popular with everyone except lobbyists.
- He could actually fix Obamacare. Republicans want to repeal Obamacare completely. That’s pretty unpopular with people with pre-existing conditions, 24-year old children, and serious and expensive medical problems. Obama would have liked to change the system — perhaps adding a public option — but never could with with Republicans running Congress. Trump has the opportunity to start with fresh thinking. Think about it: “repeal and replace” really just means “replace.” Since he is not beholden to insurance companies or healthcare lobbyists, Trump could potentially do anything to bring the cost increases into line. This is a complex issue that is beyond Trump’s understanding — beyond nearly everyone’s understanding — so a solution would depend on his attracting one of the “best people” to propose a fix. I suggest Clayton Christensen, dean of disruption and author of “The Innovator’s Prescription.”
- His chief of staff will be crucial. Trump’s people apparently told John Kasich that if he were VP, he’d end up in charge of “foreign and domestic policy.” Trump does not have the attention span to read position papers and make carefully considered decisions. He will set goals and make public statements, while the real work of understanding, deciding, and governing will fall to someone else. I don’t think Mike Pence is that trusted advisor. I don’t think Kellyanne Conway is up to the job. Unless there is a real heavyweight in that position, Trump will get nothing done. Whoever takes this job will be the most powerful man in the world.
- So will the legislative liaison. Trump does not have the relationships in Congress to make stuff happen. Unless he gets someone who knows Capitol Hill, nothing will. Is this Newt Gingrich’s role?
- There will be no wall. The wall costs too much, is impractical because of the landowners near the border, and has dubious benefits. Things that cost money need legislative approval. Even with a Republican Senate and House, Trump won’t get this. He’ll scream and make the legislators pay a political price, but there will be no wall.
- He will set the environment back decades. He will pull out of climate deals. Pipelines and fracking will spread. Trump has said global warming is a hoax, and I think he believes that. This issue might well define the presidential campaign of 2020.
- There will be a fail-safe between Trump and the nuclear button. Trump relinquished his Twitter in the final days of the election, because he knew it was in the best interests of the campaign. Will he do the same with the nuclear codes? Even if this happens, we’ll never know. But I don’t think Trump or his White House will make it easy for him to launch a nuke.
- Women candidates will eventually prevail. I think the election of 2016 was not about a man vs. a woman. It was about a man who connected effectively with his base and a woman who didn’t connect with hers as well as she needed to. In the end, more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Trump. America will elect a woman president within the next 12 years.
- The press will prevail, too. The national press, from CNN to The New York Times, is doing some soul searching today. They know they played a huge role in electing Trump. I expect a vigorous and skeptical press in the Trump Administration. And Trump will find there is nothing he can do about it.
When I told my wife today that I would be writing some optimistic things about a Trump presidency today, she said “Who is this person that I just woke up next to?” I am hopeful that the Trump who will run our government will be different from the one that just ran such an evil campaign. Trump’s supporters want him to tear down the government and start over. The government is too entrenched for that to happen. But he may get the chance to tear down some of the worst parts of it, and even those of us who feared this day more than anything else may get some things we we’ve always hoped for.