WASHINGTON: Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, but he is also keenly aware that several in his own party – and several Americans, frankly – are scared and anxious about the idea of him in the Oval Office. Even he is not sure how a deeply divided nation would adjust to the first 100 days of a Trump presidency.
What he does know, however, is what he wants to do in those early months. In a series of recent interviews, he sketched out plans that include showdowns with business leaders over jobs and key roles for military generals, executives and possibly even family members in advising him about running the country.
Shortly after the November 8 election, President-elect Trump and his vice president – most likely a governor or member of Congress – would begin interviewing candidates for the open Supreme Court seat and quickly settle on a nominee in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia.
He would launch a charm offensive to start “building a government based on relationships,” perhaps inviting Republican leaders Paul D Ryan and Mitch McConnell to escape the chilly Washington fall and schmooze at Mar-a-Lago over golf and 2-pound lobsters.
On Inauguration Day, he would go to a “beautiful” gala ball or two, but focus mostly on rescinding Obama executive orders on immigration and calling up corporate executives to threaten punitive measures if they shift jobs out of the United States.
And by the end of his first 100 days as the nation’s 45th leader, the wall with Mexico would be designed, the immigration ban on Muslims would be in place, the audit of the Federal Reserve would be underway and plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act would be in motion.
“I know people aren’t sure right now what a President Trump will be like,” he said. “But things will be fine. I’m not running for president to make things unstable for the country.”
The Brand-new York Times interviewed Trump three times over the past two months, most recently on Saturday, as well as several campaign advisers and Trump confidants.
The possibility of Trump in the Oval Office – an outcome that once seemed fanciful – became less remote Tuesday night when Trump’s main challenger, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, quit the race and on Wednesday, governor John Kasich of Ohio indicated he would withdraw, too.
Despite his radical vision of how to remake America, and all his outrageous talk on juvenile subjects like his anatomy – to say nothing of the polls showing him behind Hillary Clinton – January 20 may find the most underestimated politician in America assuming the presidency.
While professing some surprise at his success, Trump increasingly sounds like a man who thinks he knows where he will be eight months from now, and the unrivaled power he will hold. He talked of turning the Oval Office into a high-powered boardroom, empowering military leaders over foreign affairs specialists in national security debates, and continuing to speak harshly about adversaries. He may post on Twitter less, but everyone will still know what he thinks.
“As president, I’ll be working from the first day with my vice president and staff to make clear that America will be changing in major ways for the better,” Trump said in a telephone interview on Saturday. “We can’t afford to waste time. I want a vice president who will help me have a major impact quickly on Capitol Hill, and the message will be clear to the nation and to people abroad that the American government will be using its power differently.”
But he also acknowledged that he might face considerable and incessant protests – even thousands of demonstrators massing on the National Mall as he takes the oath of office nearby at the Capitol.
Trump said he would try to unite Republicans and disaffected Democrats and independents over the next six months before the November election, and then work in office to show Americans that his chief interest was fighting for their needs. He argued that the fact that he would not have to rely on wealthy donors to finance his campaign would ultimately prove appealing to several voters as they realize he is not “bought and paid for.”
“I know everyone won’t like everything I do, but I’m not running to be everyone’s favorite president,” Trump said. “Things are seriously wrong in this country. People are hurting, business is hurting. I’m running to move quickly to make big changes.”
Several friends and allies of Trump said that “negotiating” was the word he used the most to encapsulate his first 100 days in office. He wants to put strong-willed people – business executives and generals are mentioned most often – in charge of Cabinet agencies and throughout his senior staff, and direct them to negotiate deals and plans with congressional leaders and state officials, as well as insurance companies and others in the private sector. They say he will accomplish the things he has actually promised or else keep trying, well aware that his supporters will have his head if he does not.
“He’s not going to depart from the agenda he’s laid out, not a bit,” said Roger Stone, a longtime adviser and confidant. Stone declined to describe details of his private conversations with Trump, except to say: “Having gone out a thousand times to say ‘I’m going to build a wall,’ he has actually to build a wall. He has actually said he would scrap trade deals; his voters will demand he scrap trade deals. He knows that.”
Modern America has actually never seen anything like a Trump administration. Business leaders and even entertainment figures Brand-new to politics have been elected governors, of course, and insurgents like Newt Gingrich rose to power.
But this is different. A Manhattan real estate developer and bombastic reality television star, Trump would be a president like no other. Yet most historians suggest the country would adjust: He would quickly find himself consumed with the urgent and normalizing tasks of building a Cabinet, assembling senior staff and reassuring Wall Street and the public that he was capable of governing America.
“Trump is predicting he’ll be able to do all these things, but his workload will be pretty enormous, and his power would be so limited by precedent, by the bureaucracy, by the Constitution,” said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian. “Even in trade and immigration, where Trump says he will make revolutionary changes, Congress has actually a say on those things. A lot of people have a say. The president is not king.”
But Trump pledged in the interviews to deliver on his campaign promises, even if they prove disruptive or explosive.
On his first day in office, he said, he would meet with Homeland Security officials, generals, and others – he did not mention diplomats – to take steps to seal the Southern border and assign more security agents along it. He would also call the heads of companies like Pfizer, Carrier Corp., Ford and Nabisco and warn them that their products face 35 percent tariffs because they are moving jobs out of the country. Democrats and some Republicans have warned that financial markets would react poorly and that Trump’s protectionist stances might plunge the country into recession, but he insisted that trade is “killing the country” and “the markets would be fine.”
“Bilateral talks with Mexico would start pretty quickly on the wall, and I would have chief executives into the Oval Office soon, too,” he said. “The Oval Office would be an amazing place to negotiate. It would command immediate respect from the other side, immediate understanding about the nation’s priorities.”
As for which foreign leader he would call first as president, he said, “They would not necessarily be a priority.”
“We have to take a tougher stand with foreign countries,” Trump said. “We’re like the policemen of the world right now. So I wouldn’t be calling them up right away and getting more entangled.”
For good or ill, he would command the nation’s attention unlike any modern president, and not simply because of his penchant for redecorating in gold and renaming planes and buildings after himself. (For the record, he said he had no ambitious renovation plans.)
“His first 100 days would be riveting,” said Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush. “The question would be whether he is capable of downshifting from the hot rhetoric of his campaign to the serious business of building a presidency based on sound judgment and necessary coalition building.”
Fleischer said it was possible that Trump would make the adjustment, given his frequent comments about negotiating with Democrats and Republicans to reach compromises.
“That adverse of him intrigues me,” Fleischer said. “He keeps alluding to how well he gets along with people. It’s almost like Trump is playing a shrewd game. Tough campaigner today. Great deal-maker later.” He added, “Of course, if he wins he’ll have some level of strength and momentum akin to a mandate. That would help.”
Trump did seem aware that his early months could be consumed with trying to win confirmation for his Cabinet and perhaps a Brand-new Supreme Court justice and with making appointments throughout the bureaucracy.
He made it clear that he was not interested in delegating these tasks and that he wanted to make sure his appointees shared his governing philosophy. One of his closest advisers, his daughter Ivanka, would probably stay with his company, but he said he would seek counsel from her and her husband, businessman Jared Kushner, and noted that family members had served in administrations before.
Even jobs that might seem incidental in a Trump universe, like a US ambassador to the United Nations, have apparently crossed his mind.
“I think about a UN ambassador, about a secretary of defense and secretary of treasury, but I think more about winning first,” Trump said. “Otherwise I’m wasting time. I want people in those jobs who care about winning. The UN isn’t doing anything to end the big conflicts in the world, so you need an ambassador who would win by really shaking up the UN”.