Policy turnarounds, cabinet picks: Where is Trump heading?
While the populistic promises are being watered down, his team selections are controversial
Two weeks after the unexpected election of Donald Trump to the White House, the structural changes and strategic orientations that the new Administration will implement remain difficult to forecast and conflicting speculations regularly feed political debates. On the one hand, Trump seems to have tuned down most of the radical promises he had made on the campaign trail. However, the most recent choices he has made to compose his cabinet and advising team are unlikely to appease the worries of the most moderate republicans, even less build bipartisan compromises in a country whose divisions have deepened during the election cycle.
Over the last days, president-elect Trump has already walked back on some of his most resounding declarations that led him to the White House. Prosecuting Hillary Clinton? Trump now does not believe it would be beneficial to the country’s division despite his constant calls for “locking (the democratic candidate) up” ahead of the elections. Killing the Paris Climate Change Agreement? Trump confessed he was now open to any option and confirmed the link between human activity and climate change on Tuesday. Abrogating free trade agreements? If Trump confirmed that he would withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he omitted to mention his promises to renegotiate NAFTA or wage a currency war on China in his recent address to the Nation. The wall at the frontier with Mexico? It could become a fence. Finally, the Affordable Healthcare Act, lambasted throughout the campaign under the slogan “repeal Obamacare”, could be simply amended instead of abrogated
These sudden turnarounds seem to suggest that Trump is confessing that some of his populistic promises were just neither realistic, nor in the best interest of an American population who needs to be reunited around a common project for the country rather than blindly reject the realities of climate change and benefits of global trade. They also confirm that the anti-establishment platform hammered during his campaign was a chimera and that Trump has fallen in line with Washington politics.
On the other hand, the recent nominations of key advisers and member of his cabinet have been far more controversial. The selection of General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser in the White House, after a less than stellar performance at the Defense Intelligence Agency, raises eyebrows after his comments on Islamism, a “cancer in the body of 1.7 billion people”. Trump’s choice to appoint Steve Bannon as his chief strategist has been even more contentious because of his links with the nationalist “alt-right” movement, a group who vehemently opposes multiculturalism and share the belief in the supremacy of the white race and Western civilization.
If Trump has scaled back on some of his inflammatory campaign rhetoric, he has maintained a hard stance on key topics such as immigration law, abortion rights and gun rights. Those three issues are the core of Trump’s realignment with the Republican Party platform confirmed by the choice of former RNC Chairman Reince Priebus as the White House Chief of Staff, after a campaign that has seen profound disagreements between the Party and its presidential nominee.
To implement his anti-immigration platform, Trump nominated the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions as his attorney general, a man who rose to the political center stage by fighting a bipartisan effort on comprehensive immigration reform.
In regards to abortion rights, Trump confirmed he would only appoint pro-life constitutional judges and he strongly considers Representative Tom Price – one of the most ardent opponent of Obamacare – for the position of Secretary of Health and Human Service. Finally, the choice of Mike Pompeo - who regularly defended orthodox positions in regards to abortion and gun laws – at the helm of the CIA not only solidifies the hardline moral positions of Vice President Mike Pence and but also plants the last nail in the coffin of negotiations with Iran as the Kansas representative adamantly opposed the nuclear deal.
Therefore, if the rhetoric has been more consensual on many controversial topics, the cabinet picks tend themselves to confirm that the Trump administration will follow a hardline conservative direction.
Crucial choices on foreign policy
Several positions remain to be filled, especially in regards to foreign policy. Donald Trump confirmed the name of Nikki Haley, the popular Governor of South Carolina, to serve as his Ambassador to the United Nations despite her limited foreign policy experience. She will likely work with a far more seasoned veteran as Defense Secretary if the name of General James “Mad Dog” Mattis is accepted by Congress despite his recent retirement from the armed forces.
But the key deliberation is on who will win the coveted position of Secretary of State as two names remain under consideration: former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani who supported Donald Trump from the onset of his campaign and hope to harvest the position as a reward for his backing.
Speculations over the final choice have led to a public feud between the two camps as Giuliani’s supporters questioned Romney’s loyalty while the former GOP nominee representative raised concerns about Giuliani’s business interests.
Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of State will have important consequences on American foreign policy but will also say a lot about Trump’s willingness to bury the hatchet on past disputes to gather beyond his immediate supporters.
If Priebus’ friendship with House Speaker Paul Ryan is well known, the other cabinet choices so far are outsiders that proved to be more faithful to the then candidate Donald Trump than to the Republican Party itself. Trump has yet to reach out to several key Republican figures to rally behind him a dislocated majority after a violent primary election.
He has not reached out yet to the more moderate wing of the Grand Old Party represented by the Bush family or rising young politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio who confirmed his status of frontline politician by outdoing Trump in Florida rallying 218,000 more votes than him in the Sunshine State after a solid presidential bid. This is likely an error for Trump who needs to show he is able to unite his own party, if he wants to convince as the president of all Americans.