During his presidential bid Donald Trump vowed sweeping change on key domestic and foreign policy issues. Together with a Republican Congress he could soon fulfill many of his promises. But will he?
Donald Trump promised to undo the Iran nuclear deal hammered out by the Obama administration and its international partners with Tehran.
He promised to take the US out of the Paris climate agreement signed earlier this year after years of international negotiations.
He promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care reform, better known as “Obamacare”.
And he vowed to undo numerous trade agreements negotiated by previous US administrations with various nations and replace them with better deals
These are just four out of a whole range of existing agreements and laws Donald Trump promised to repeal upon becoming president. And with both chambers of Congress in Republican hands what could hold a President Trump back from making good on these promises which played a key role in his change-driven campaign agenda?
But in Washington’s political reality things are often a little more complicated than they seem as a candidate on the campaign trail in Iowa or Florida.
Executive orders to ditch Iran and climate deal
Still, technically President Trump could pull the US out of both the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal fairly easily. Since both agreements are not binding treaties which would have required Congressional approval President Obama was unlikely to get, but executive agreements, Trump could simply issue an executive order repealing Obama’s existing executive agreements.
But political experts are not convinced that a President Trump will actually follow the path laid out by candidate Trump. “It’s unclear how that will play out”, said David Canon, a political scientist with a focus on Congress at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Since an American withdrawal from both of these agreements would have tremendous international consequences effectively rendering both deals largely meaningless, such a move would be highly risky, said Canon.
“Such reckless precipitous actions would cause too much disruption”, said John Johannes, a congressional scholar at Villanova University. Trump has little understanding of policy and political process, noted Johannes, but the stable of advisors he will have at his side once he takes office “will understand politics in Washington a whole lot better than he does – at least I hope they do.”
Repealing easier than replacing
Similarly with Obama’s health care reform, said Canon, “the repeal part is easy, the replace part is much harder.” But while revoking the Affordable Care Act, loathed by Conservatives, would fulfill a long-standing Republican promise and hand them an important symbolic victory, it too would have strongly impact those covered by it.
“It seems unlikely they would simply remove health insurance from 20 million Americans without something to replace it”, said Canon. The problem, he added, is that neither Trump nor the GOP has a prepared and agreed-upon replacement plan that could replace Obamacare.
“It would be a national disaster to pull them off suddenly”, said Johannes. “Republicans will have to be a lot more cautious than Trump has been saying.”
While ditching the Iran deal, the Paris climate agreement and Obamacare would be comparatively easy and politically popular with most Republicans, that isn’t the case for another central plank of Trump’s campaign – getting rid of existing trade agreements and replacing them through better deals.
Resistance on free trade stance
“He will run into resistance within his own party on that” said Canon. While some in the Republican Party have supported Trump’s anti-free trade stance, many have not, as traditionally free trade has been a cornerstone of Republican orthodoxy.
What’s more, since Trump would need Congressional backing to undo trade agreements like NAFTA he would likely face opposition from House Speaker Paul Ryan, a free trade supporter. Ryan, however, is up for election in January and some Trump supporters in Congress have already said they want to oust him after his publicly stated refusal to campaign with the GOP nominee after the release of Trump audiotape. But a replacement that could hold the party together better than Ryan is hard to come by, and so Trump and his supporters will have to think twice before trying to do so.
Even his promise to swiftly deport undocumented immigrants – a key rallying cry during the campaign – could be hard to fulfill for Trump.
“If he were really to follow through on his plan to deport 16 million illegal immigrants, he would run into real resistance from the Republican party because the backbone of the Republican Party is still small business people,” said Canon. And while Trump had already backtracked on this by vowing to begin deportations of those with a criminal record, that could backfire.
“I think he will be a little more cautious on that”, said Johannes. “The last thing he needs is a big explosion in his first weeks in office.”
For David Canon, President elect-Trump’s victory speech could be an indication that a President Trump may be more restraint than candidate Trump was. That’s because in his initial remarks, said Canon, Trump focused on rebuilding infrastructure, rebuilding inner cities and support for veterans, but didn’t mention any of the more divisive issues.
But while are clear political obstacles to actually fulfilling many of Trump’s central campaign promises, if Donald Trump has proven anything during his campaign, than it is that he is a master in overcoming obstacles. And he has also proven that in the end he, not his advisors, makes the important decisions. Said Johannes: “The trouble with Trump is nobody really knows him and the guy is reckless.”