It might have started with a joke. Donald Trump had routinely flirted with running for president and in 2011, he made it to the White House. Or the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, to be exact. There, the president humiliated him, including releasing the long-form birth certificate Trump had demanded in an attempt to drum up support for a potential presidential campaign. According to McCay Coppins of Buzzfeed, that pushed Trump to run for president in 2016 - “I’ll show those snobs!” he figured.
He has certainly shown them what he was capable of as a presidential candidate. Trump was a rebel candidate through and through, but is there such a thing as a rebel president? Despite his more outlandish character, he is already showing the hallmarks of a consummate political insider.
Forgotten Campaign Promises
Typically, the candidate that forgets to campaign as if they’ll actually be president is the candidate preparing to exit the race. But Trump’s campaign was essentially one long attention-grabbing gambit. Hence, he’s already abandoned some of his bolder promises. He has decided not to follow-through on jailing Hillary Clinton. It’s the right call, lest the United States turn into the kind of place where people run for office in order to jail their political opponents.
His seminal promise to build a wall and force Mexico to pay for it is falling on deaf ears in Congress. The president has wide authority to act against illegal immigration, starting with substantially increasing enforcement against unlawful employment, visa overstays, and those picked up in conjunction with a crime. Expect the Trump administration to fence up to 1,700 miles of the border, deport criminal aliens, and ratchet up interior enforcement measures. However, don’t expect Congress to authorize the construction of a border wall. How will Trump supporters take such a reality check on this defining issue? If they took him “seriously, not literally,” will they still believe they have a president that takes illegal immigration as seriously as they do?
A Normal Cabinet
Like two of the last three presidents, Trump has selected a former executive from Goldman Sachs as his nominee for Treasury Secretary and tapped a billionaire to head the Commerce Department. So much for being “the champion of the forgotten man.” Politics aside, President Trump will set the agenda, but there are many impactful decisions made in these vast bureaucracies. It appears the pair was chosen simply because they will push Trump’s economic agenda: lowering taxes to boost economic growth and reorienting trade deals toward bilateral arrangements.
Overall, his Cabinet choices seem entirely normal, at least for a Republican administration. Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education; Elaine Chao, the wife of the Senate Majority Leader, following in the exact footsteps of Elizabeth Dole by heading to the Department of Transportation; Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Trump’s announced the appointment of two retired generals, James Mattis and John Kelly, to lead the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, respectively.
Steve Mnuchin looks like an extra from The Wolf of Wall Street and the announcement of his selection was first broadcast on none other than CNBC. The Treasury Department, in part, works to stabilize financial markets and you can’t secure financial markets in America without stabilizing Wall Street. It’s no coincidence that Mnuchin’s selection was first broadcast on the network that is ubiquitous in lower Manhattan; Trump and the transition team fully intended to send a signal that bankers will have one of their own leading the department. This couldn’t have been what they meant by “drain the swamp!”
Conflicts of Interest
There’s one instance where Trump is clearly an aberration: he will be the first president from the business world.
President-elect Trump tweeted that he will turn over his businesses “in total” in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. That is a necessary first step but it appears he will hand control of the Trump Organization to his adult children. This simply isn’t enough. The Trump Organization has billions of investments around the globe and is directly connected to hundreds of decisions made by federal bureaucracies.
Trump needs to hand over all financial control of his 550 businesses to independent principals and agree to never contact or influence them outside of transparent government business. Conservatives should lead with conviction: “drain the swamp” by downsizing government agencies to reduce their influence over private organizations, clear out the tax code to keep special interests from carving out loopholes they can exploit, and eliminate billions in wasteful subsidies that advantage big businesses over struggling entrepreneurs. President Trump must lead by example. We can’t drain the swamp if he’s swimming in it.
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