“Is your relationship with the president-elect and your conservatives in the House intact?“ Ryan responded ”…And he just earned a mandate. And we now just have a unified Republican government.”
This is technically true; starting next year, for at least two years, Republicans will control both houses of Congress and the White House. But it’s unclear if being a unifying force for Republicans is really the mandate Trump earned. Throughout his campaign, Trump has not exactly been unified with his party in a lot of ways and that has been part of his appeal to many of his supporters. Time and again, both before and after the election, Trump’s image as an “anti-establishment outsider” has been noted as one of the keys to his success.
Now that he’s been elected, if Trump wants to actually achieve any of his campaign promises, this supposed outsider is going to have to work with a Congress made up of elected officials who are mostly incumbents and generally very much party line Republican insiders. Whether or not that’s possible will depend on the issues and on just how much of an outsider or how much of a Republican Trump really is.
One of the first and most influential acts of Trump’s presidency will be appointing at least one Supreme Court justice. Trump seems to have already acquiesced to the establishment on this. His list of Supreme Court Justices are all pretty standard conservatives and have apparently been approved by Republican-leaning legal groups. This is going to have long-term impact on a number of important issues, probably including marriage equality, reproductive rights, unions, transgender rights, and others.
Whatever Trump’s actual opinions on these issues, once he appoints a right wing justice, it will be the Republican agenda being enshrined in legal precedent. It didn’t have to be this way. As the new anti-establishment leader for the party that is supposed to be all about small unobtrusive government, Trump could have been the one to help his party evolve past wanting the government to be involved in who people marry, what women do with their bodies, or which bathroom a person uses. But, instead, it seems he’s decided to outsource his responsibility, and his Supreme Court legacy, to the Republican old guard.
Another area where Trump is dutifully towing the party line, rather than trying to shake things up, is climate change. In his own business practices, he has acknowledged the reality of climate change and even sought to mitigate its effects on his assets; however, in his political stance Trump has steadfastly denied the science of climate change. Unfortunately, by allying himself with Republican political elites on this issue, Trump is actually splitting with the majority of voters, including about half of conservative voters, who want the government to take action to address climate change.
On other issues like foreign policy and immigration, it’s unclear whether Trump will follow the establishment or if the establishment will follow Trump or if there will be some kind of intraparty gridlock. Trump has attacked trade agreements, in general, throughout his campaign and has stated that renegotiating NAFTA, pulling out of the TPP, and initiating some kind of trade war with China are priorities for his first hundred days in office. Some Republican lawmakers seem to have shifted their stated views on free trade to be more allied with Trumpand his supporters during the campaign. However, it remains to be seen whether or not lawmakers will actually enact the kind of policy Trump has been proposing, given the potential for big negative economic and diplomatic outcomes.
Similarly, many Republican lawmakers may support stricter immigration policies and controls. But no fiscally-responsible elected official, from either party, would condone Trump’s Mexico border wall and no one who values the Constitution would allow Trump to pass laws that discriminate against people based on religion.
As Trump’s presidency progresses he will likely learn that being anti-establishment is not entirely productive when you need the establishment to pass laws and that being part of the Republican establishment is not going to appease voters who elected him to do the opposite. Trump’s stances will continue to change as it benefits him, as they have throughout his campaign, and his relationship with his fellow Republicans will be complex and will also fluctuate depending on what’s to be gained. In the end Trump will probably reveal himself to be neither as much of a political outsider and change-maker as some of his supporters hoped, nor as much of a Republican as Republicans hoped.
Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm and you can find her on Twitter @AlexisAPChapman.