Donald Trump has a choice. He can work with the Republican Party that he crushed last spring to craft a familiar conservative agenda. Or he can remake the party in his own mold.
An important early test will come with decisions about the economy. On this he could quickly strike a far-reaching budget deal with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who gushed over Trump Wednesday morning after maintaining a frosty distance during the campaign.
With control of both houses of Congress, Republicans can pass most of the massive tax cut Trump has proposed, coupling it with measures to de-fund the Affordable Care Act and turn programs for poor people, like Medicaid and food stamps, into block grants to states with fewer benefits.
Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman and leading political strategist, predicted that Trump will find it in his interest to let conservatives craft this agenda.
“On the budget and taxes, Trump will likely be more led than lead,” Davis said. If Davis is right, that means that the candidate who said there’d be no cuts in entitlement programs would yield to conservatives eager to reduce the cost of Social Security through measures like raising the retirement age.
On immigration, trade and national security, though, Trump may give less deference to traditional Republican ideas.
His voters expect him to follow through on campaign promises to deport millions of undocumented workers and to build a wall along the Mexican border, so he’ll probably take steps in those directions. He’s unlikely to achieve what he promised — deporting 11 million people would cost billions and devastate the economy, and Mexico never will pay for the wall — but he’ll make a start and please his most ardent supporters.
The president-elect could abolish financial regulations, including parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. (Photo: iStock)
On trade, he has vowed to declare China a currency manipulator. That would be a symbolic move, but if he keeps his commitment to slap huge tariffs on Chinese imports it could have cataclysmic global effects. Presidents have considerable flexibility to impose tariffs, as they do to enact immigration policy. A ban on Muslims entering the U.S., which Trump has advanced, could be done administratively.
Trump could also abolish financial and environmental regulations, including parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law enacted in response to the financial crisis and which he attacked on the stump. One of the few checks on this power will be the courts, but he will be able to name hundreds of federal judges, probably including a new Supreme Court justice.