The cheering has died down and the long, divisive, emotionally exhausting campaign is over. Now, attention turns to President-electDonald Trump‘s agenda.
American voters across the political spectrum, along with wary observers around the world, are asking: What will the new Trump administration set at the top of its list? And what will it accomplish?
The president-elect’s first task will be to try to find a wider base of support for the “movement” that he credits with sweeping him into the White House.
“To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people,” he told a cheering crowd in New York early Wednesday morning. “It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all of Americans, and this is so important to me.”
Unifying a deeply divided electorate will be a tall order, but it won’t be a prerequisite for the new president to begin the political revolution he promised his supporters.
Throughout the campaign, Trump boldly promised a laundry list of accomplishments in his first 100 days that would rival the full-term achievements of any modern president. He has promised to:
- Appoint judges “who will uphold the Constitution” and “defend the Second Amendment.”
- Build a wall on the southern border and restrict immigration “to give unemployed Americans an opportunity to fill good-paying jobs.”
- “Stand up to countries that cheat on trade, of which there are many” and crack down on companies “that send jobs overseas.”
- “Repeal and replace job-killing Obamacare — it is a disaster.”
- Lift federal restrictions on energy production.
“There is one common theme in all of these reforms,” Trump has said repeatedly. “It’s going to be America first.”
For many of his critics, the list seemed wildly, improbably ambitious. But the Democratic Party’s failure to win back control of either chamber of Congress means the Republican Party will control the legislative process. That will likely end at least some of the partisan gridlock that stymied much the Obama administration’s agenda.
Still, the Trump White House will face a divided GOP on Capitol Hill, to say nothing of the deep divisions among Americans.
What the president-elect didn’t address in his victory speech on Wednesday was immigration.
Trump’s signature proposal, building a wall along the southern border, will be problematic. But having won his historic victory on such a singular promise, his supporters will demand that the pledge be more than symbolic.
The obstacles, though, are as large as the barrier he has promised to create for immigrants. Despite his pledge to send the bill to the Mexican government, he will need budget authorization to pay for the project.
More broadly, Trump’s anti-immigrant stance will also face pushback from members of his own party’s congressional caucus, especially those in states and districts who have been alarmed by the GOP’s losses among a growing bloc of Hispanic voters.
Beyond the opposition he’ll face from Democrats, Trump will have to contend with the large contingent from his own party who either withheld their support or called on him to step down as a candidate. The list includes some 15 Republican senators, along with dozens of current GOP House members and governors.
It remains to be seen whether Trump can convince enough of those Republicans to adopt his stance on closing the nation’s borders to immigrants. Immigration reform could prove to become either a template for the remainder of Trump’s agenda or a preview of the impact of divisions in the GOP.
But while Republicans may have split over Trump’s candidacy, they remain unified on some of the key issues he campaign on.
The GOP-controlled House has voted more than 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s signature health-care law. Now, that effort becomes much more likely to succeed.
The unity or division of the Republican Party will prove critical even before Trump takes office in January, in one of the most contentious and important issues of the campaign: the nomination to fill the Supreme Court seat left unfilled by the death in February of Antonin Scalia.
Senate Republicans have refused to consider President Barack Obama‘s nominee, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, saying the nomination should wait until after the election. Late last month, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake told reporters that he would press for Garland’s nomination hearings in the lame-duck session before Trump is sworn in.
Democrats have failed to win the 60 votes needed for a cloture vote to block a filibuster and clear the way for Garland’s nomination to move forward. To do so, they had hoped to win support from among the Republican senators like Flake who opposed Trump’s candidacy.
But Republican hardliners including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have vowed to block Garland, or any other nominee from a Democrat in the White House, indefinitely. Now, Trump’s victory will only stiffen opposition to the lame-duck nomination.
With a free hand to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat and potential future high court vacancies during this term, along with lower federal court appointments, Trump will have the chance to reshape the high court and federal judiciary. That may turn out to be one of the most powerful forces for advancing his agenda and the most lasting impact of his presidency.
Some of Trump’s campaign pledges will find wider consensus. After years of political gridlock, both parties faced voter backlash for failure to address some of the country’s most pressing problems.
On top of that list is a multibillion-dollar investment in the nation’s infrastructure, one of the most likely opportunities for consensus. (Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, had also pledged to boost infrastructure spending.)
So long as the spending is widely distributed among congressional districts, an infrastructure bill would likely enjoy bipartisan support. The program would also produce thousands of relatively well-paid jobs, another major pledge through the campaign from both parties.
Regardless of his reception on Capitol Hill, much of Trump’s agenda, including areas of regulatory enforcement and foreign policy, won’t require congressional approval. The Obama administration’s orders on immigration and the EPA regulation of carbon emissions, for example, could be easily reversed.
Trump’s promise to roll back Dodd-Frank regulatory reforms wouldn’t necessarily require a full-blown repeal of the law; the Trump administration’s Treasury and Justice Department’s will have broad discretion over how vigorously to enforce it.
But as the Obama administration learned, governing by executive order offers limited options without the support of Congress.