5 questions for President Trump and his team

by Williams Yamkam ([email protected]) 766 views 

As the nation looks to newly inaugurated President Donald Trump and his team to set the political tone and policy priorities, it seems important for team Trump to ponder the following key questions, the answers to which could determine the perception and the fate of the Trump presidency.

• How to shake the perception that Trump’s election might have been made possible thanks to an assist from Russia?

According to a report by the nation’s intelligence agencies, Russia sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections via the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s data system, the hacking of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Chairman’s e-mail account, and the selective dissemination of information that aimed at further tarnishing the image of Clinton in the eyes of the American electorate.

Though no evidence exists to suggest that Russia hacked the electronic voting machines and altered the results of the 2016 presidential elections, Russia’s aggressive interference during the presidential campaign may give an excuse to many of Trump’s detractors to view him as an accidental and illegitimate President who owes his election to Russia.

The release of the report by the intelligence agencies and the leaking of an intelligence dossier on an unsubstantiated set of compromising information that Russia might have on Trump caused Trump’s ire and unfortunately led to a heated public exchange between Trump and the outgoing CIA Director John Brennan.

This state of affairs may put Trump’s interactions with Russia under increased scrutiny, which could stifle Trump’s oft-proclaimed willingness to normalize relations with Russia. Reversing course to adopt a tougher stance on Russia could project Trump as a President who caved under pressure, while cozying up to Russia may cause a drumbeat of protests from Trump’s detractors and serve as a fodder for the media’s negative coverage of Trump.

Trump and his team need to proceed with caution.

• How to deal with an increasingly adversarial press corps?

It is no secret that for many years prior to his delving into politics, Trump had cultivated a cozy relationship with many members of the mainstream media. Mostly due to Trump’s ability to generate sizeable ratings, this cozy relationship with the media benefited Trump during the Republican primaries as media outlets often gave Trump wall-to-wall coverage that amounted to at least $2 Billion worth of free media.

However, as the general elections loomed, the relationship between Trump and many media outlets became more adversarial to the point that Trump frequently berated some reporters. Since the elections, the relationship between Trump and many media outlets has grown even more contentious.

Trump needs to determine whether or not to make peace with the mainstream media. After all, the mainstream media still plays a huge role in filtering information and in shaping the views of millions of Americans. Can the Trump administration withstand four years of a media onslaught? We shall see.

• How to deal with the Republican establishment?

It is fair to say that Trump’s upset victory over Clinton last November took many members of the Republican establishment by surprise. Many Congressional Republicans and other national Republican leaders who did not want to be associated with Trump during the presidential campaign now have to work with President Trump, who by the way, has also become the leader of the Republican Party.

Would Trump’s savvy selection of Reince Priebus – the former Chair of the Republican National Committee and Speaker Paul Ryan’s close friend – as White House Chief of Staff, and Elaine Chao – former Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush and wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – as Secretary of Transportation help placate Congressional leaders and give Trump a chance to get his legislative agenda through Congress? What should Trump do when his legislative priorities run counter to congressional Republicans’ ideological orthodoxy and political calculations? Would Trump be willing to appeal to the base of the Republican Party to force the hand of congressional Republicans and thus run the risk of eventually alienating these latter?

• How to deal with Congressional Democrats?

The attitude that Congressional Democrats choose to adopt vis-à-vis Trump is likely to determine Trump’s reaction. Congressional Democrats may decide to either be obstructionists and oppose just about any of Trump’s initiatives, or be a constructive opposition that works with Trump whenever possible. If congressional Democrats choose to be obstructionists, should Trump and congressional Republicans just unilaterally pass conservative policies at the risk of facing the voters’ wrath in the 2018 mid-term elections-if those policies become unpopular?

And if Congressional Democrats choose to work with Trump on issues such as spending on  infrastructure building, would Trump agree to work with those Democrats even if doing so could alienate his conservative supporters in Congress and throughout the country?

• Would Trump’s business assets become a liability?

Though Trump has taken steps to avoid any conflicts of interest and has removed himself from the operations of his business empire, some doubts still remain as to whether the Trump organization can really not draw any benefits from Trump’s position as President of the United States. This doubt is further reinforced by the fact that, contrary to established precedent, Trump’s tax returns have not been made public.

Obviously, refusing to make those tax returns public during the last presidential campaign did not hurt Trump. However, now that Trump is President, many of his detractors and other ethics advocates might grow more suspicious whenever Trump or any member of his family deals with past or present major business partners in the U.S. or around the world.

It is fair to assume that the mainstream media, advocacy groups, and some of Trump’s detractors are likely to be intrepid in their effort to finally make Trump’s tax returns public. How would Trump react if a damaging piece of information was ever revealed from those tax returns?

As a candidate, Trump was certainly unconventional and he defied many political rules. As President, would he be able to defy the rules often applied to seating Presidents?

Time will tell.

Editor’s note: Dr. Williams Yamkam is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics or the UAFS administration.