Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group and a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leader’s UK programme.
If Donald Trump’s second 500 days in office are as breathtaking, unorthodox, and unpredictable as his first, political observers and commentators are in for a treat.
You may not agree with his political views or, perhaps more likely, the manner in which he handles his business and speaks of others, but no one can deny that Trump’s unpredictability has captivated a global audience.
This should not come as a surprise, given the man who occupies the White House rose to fame as much for his controversy as his business acumen. In many ways, the first 500 days of Trump have been a long-running extension of “The Donald’s” many reality TV appearances – always keeping the news stories rolling and never apologising, no matter how unbecoming the remark.
Some cite a pre-conceived strategy aimed at keeping controversies such as those with Stormy Daniels, a perplexing relationship with the First Lady, and infighting within the White House out of the press. Critics attack a man without a plan, easily influenced by conservative commentators, business friends at Mar-A-Lago, and the cosy hosts of Fox & Friends.
Take just 24 hours – any 24 hours – on the Trump’s Twitter timeline and you get a sample of who this President is and how he governs.
Yesterday in one morning alone, the he urged the Justice Department to speed up its investigation into Hillary Clinton, his ongoing arch-enemy; further pressured those in control of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian collusion; rolled back White House convention by withdrawing an invitation to the Super Bowl Champions after only a fraction of the Philadelphia Eagles players said they would attend; and teased the idea of a major outcome in the upcoming US-North Korea summit on June 12th.
It was the perfect snapshot of the presidential pandemonium that we should be firmly used to by now. And so: what to expect for the next 500 days?
More disregard for historic allies
The first 500 days of Trump have featured setbacks for nearly all of America’s historic allies, with the exception of Israel. The European Union and United Kingdom will feel at arms length to this President after very public lobbying by Emmanuel Macron, and behind the scenes diplomatic persuasion by Theresa May and Angela Merkel, all failed to keep the United States in the Paris Climate Accord or the Iran Deal.
More recently, the White House announced the EU would not be exempt from levied tariffs on imported steel and aluminium. Considering the action was taken under Section 232 on the grounds of a threat to national security, the transatlantic relationship is evidently enduring a period of strain.
Likelihood this will continue: 7/10
More attacks on Mueller
The President’s virulent disgust towards Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his investigation, and those in control of its destiny comes as no surprise by now.
Despite the almost daily insistence of “No Collusion!”, Trump and his cheerleaders are now pivoting towards a strategy of debasing the Mueller investigation before it can report its findings to Congress. Their latest strategy is to float new legal theories and push the constitutional boundaries of the office of the President.
He and his legal team now make the case that he is in effect above the law, based on the theory that the president can pardon anyone at any time. In 1974, just days before Richard Nixon resigned, acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lawton wrote in a brief memo: “The President cannot pardon himself.” Nevertheless, the debate goes on in order to lay the groundwork in the event that the Mueller investigation finds Trump guilty of a crime.
Likelihood this will continue: 10/10
More appealing directly to the base that won him the White House
Donald Trump entered the White House as a political novice, but has shown that he is quick to learn the political ropes. At no point has the President sought to bridge the divide between the 62,984,825 million Americans who voted for him and the 65,853,516 million who voted for Hillary Clinton.
Instead, Trump governs with his base in mind, constantly taking actions that stand to benefit – often optically but not economically – blue collar, working-class America. The Fox News viewership go crazy for his attacks on NFL players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, applaud his decision to revoke an invitation to the Philadelphia Eagles owing to lacklustre interest, and stand proudly behind his decision to host patriotic celebrations in front of military personnel.
The left describes it as a culture war, whilst the right is more comfortable looking at a President delivering on his campaign promise to make America more like the past that his supporters nostalgically yearn for.
Likelihood this will continue: 8/10
More foreign policy and less of a domestic political agenda
The White House and Congressional leadership failed multiple times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, meaning Obamacare remains the law of the land. Quickly moving on, the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act was hurriedly passed with a view to delivering financial benefit directly into the pockets of American workers through the principle of trickle-down economics.
Since then, and working with a slim majority in the Senate, the domestic legislative focus has been paused. With extensive Executive powers in foreign policy, the President has favoured flexing America’s muscles abroad. The world will watch the US-North Korea summit on June 12th with baited breath, as two of its most unpredictable leaders sit down together for the first time.
Closer to home, Trump will make his first official trip to the UK on July 13th in a ‘working visit’ that will fall well short of the pageantry of a State Visit; it is the latter that the President really seeks. May will embrace the rhetorical support of a US-UK Free Trade Agreement, which will provide a welcome spring in the Government’s step on its path to Brexit.
The White House and Congress are likely to begin tackling domestic issues and legislation again after the November midterm elections, where the new make-up of Congress could limit the President’s ability to pursue legislation.
Likelihood this will continue: 6/10
The next 500 days of Trump: More of the same
Making any kind of political prediction is a fool’s errand these days – not even White House aides seem to know what this President will do next. But hitherto we have seen clear patterns emerging from the White House and Capitol Hill.
A president that has completely rebranded and reshaped the Republican Party; an opposition Democratic Party that still has not figured out how to oppose Trump or who should run against him in 2020; and an American public that seems unsure about the President’s record so far, with fluctuating polls and a news cycle that struggles to last more than 24 hours.
Watch out for the midterm election results this November – the clearest test of the Trump presidency so far.