Late in 2016, people ranging from Barack Obama to Republican Party grandees, concluded that Donald Trump was not suited or qualified to take on the high office of President. Now that he has beaten the odds and sits behind the big desk in the Oval Office, there is speculation on how long he can last.
In the first of a series of “Trump Card” our Melbourne correspondent looks at the new president’s tumultuous early days, the White House ranks jockeying for position and what might happen.
The importance of the movers and shakers in Washington
By John Smith
My basic feeling about Trump is that he is playing to the wrong constituency – the redneck fan base of the little people who feel that the system has failed them.
The new President has underestimated the need to play to the Washington constituency, who have the power to delay some of his agenda and even possibly derail his presidency.
He has attacked the judicial system – some of them won’t like that.
He has attacked the media – some of them won’t like that.
He is at odds with the intelligence community – some of them won’t like that.
He also has a problem lying in wait with the repeal of Obamacare, which – ‘socialist’ though it may seem to be – benefits poor people who make up many of his supporters.
Different levels of interaction
There are so many interesting games playing out at the moment.
One is the conflict within the White House – between the ‘Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon’ group of idealogues/outsiders and the more conventional establishment group – Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus and Vice-President, Mike Pence, in particular.
I have the feeling that the balance is already tilting away from Bannon – with Counsellor to the President, Kellyanne Conway seemingly demoted and Bannon forced out of the shadows and into the public eye.
Another is the way that the Cabinet seems to be developing, again with Pence as a key player. There seems to be a strategy – particularly in foreign policy – of promoting reasonably conventional American policy positions and ignoring Trump’s random tweets that seem to contradict them.
Plenty of ambitious people in the mix
There are clearly some strong characters in the group and to some extent Trump needs them more than they need him. If he is unhappy with them what does he do – fire them?
That would reflect upon his judgment and muddy the image of the White House team being a ‘fine-tuned machine’!
Former Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, is presenting himself in a much more ‘presidential’ way than Trump. It wouldn’t be a huge step from that to him quietly building a power-base around him of people who think he would be a better president if …
Trump is vulnerable
The extreme possibilities are Pence/Cabinet invoking the 25th amendment – if Trump seems to be going off the rails completely – or the beginnings of the impeachment process if he gives grounds.
There are two areas where I think he is vulnerable to that course. One is his financially messy situation of not clearly removing himself from his business interests – that could come back to haunt him if evidence emerges of anything illegal or shady.
But the big one for me is the issue of contacts with Russia before and during the election. That could play out badly for him in two ways. One is the legality – if there is enough suspicion of treasonous dealings then we could be looking at impeachment.
Politically that would be harder for him to spin to his core supporters – for whom it could look quite unpatriotic and not the way to ‘Make America Great Again’!
Another Watergate looming?
If and when investigations start on that issue then we are possibly heading for a Watergate type scenario – with a steady drip feed of information slowly eroding credibility.
Then people close to Trump, distancing themselves from him to save their own political futures. My impression is that Mike Flynn has already ‘taken one for the team’ : it is hard to believe that he did what he did without the knowledge and approval of Trump.
Lack of loyalty to his political friends was a key factor in Nixon’s demise.
It is fascinating to watch, but also scary as the stakes are so high – this man is so unpredictable.
I am happy to be watching it from a distance – let’s hope it is a safe distance!