A few days after the most surprising presidential election in recent history, Washington is adjusting to the prospect of a Trump administration.
In bars and on the street you overhear snatches of conversation about ‘the list’ that’s been circulated by the Trump transition team, which presumably itemises a fair few of the 3000 jobs up for grabs.
The most influential address in town is 1717 Pennsylvania Avenue. Up until Tuesday, both the Clinton and Trump campaigns had transition teams located there. Now it is just Trump’s people, who have a very long to-do list before the inauguration of the new president in January.
The speculation about who Trump will choose to fill the posts in his cabinet is well underway. In terms of priority policy lists, there is also plenty of advice on offer, especially from conservatives who are not bothering to hide their glee at the prospect at a Republican-controlled White House. This section of Washington woke up on Wednesday certain of not just a GOP president for the next four years, but also secure in the knowledge Republicans had held on to majorities in the House and Senate. Soon there will be a conservative-leaning Supreme Court as well.
On Thursday, it was standing room only at a lunchtime panel discussion at the centre-right think tank the Heritage Foundation. ‘On the new administration’s first day,’ said Berkeley School of Law professor and controversial George W Bush Administration lawyer John Yoo, ‘President Trump should terminate the Iran nuclear agreement, restore immigration regulation enforcement and pardon Hillary Clinton. A pardon would serve a dual purpose in that it would indicate we are putting the past behind us while making it clear we think she committed a crime.’
Fellow panel member Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at the National Review and a critic of Trump during the campaign, said the appointment of a conservative justice to the supreme court to fill the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia would help unite the Republican Party.
‘The judicial issue will bring the team together. If it turns into a fight over the nominee, the team will be together,’ Yoo said.
Away from the Heritage Foundation, no-one is sure how much of the rhetoric that fired Trump’s campaign will translate into policy, or the degree to which his much-trumpeted pledge to 'drain the swamp’ will hollow out the Washington establishment that would have been likely to try to put a brake on abrupt about-turns.
But while much of a Trump administration’s foreign policy remains a matter of conjecture, there is one over-riding characteristic that is clear, says Satu P Limaye, director of the East-West Center in Washington. ‘There is a huge divide between Trump and the Democratic and Republican establishment on American leadership,’ Mr Limaye said. Both parties have long held that American leadership is good for America and good for the world. Trump, in contrast, has not spoken of American leadership abroad. It was clear a large part of the American population, like Trump, had ‘no stomach for expanding American war, treasure or blood, not on some shoal in the South China Sea, or some village in Afghanistan, not anywhere’.
Limaye said Trump had nothing to gain from the people he said he will represent by expanding America’s military enforcement. This position will guide policy in the Middle East.
Pew Research Centre findings suggest a hardening in the stance of Republican or Republican-leaning voters on the effectiveness of the US military campaign in Iraq and Sryia. In April 70% of that group thought the campaign was not going well (as compared to 59% across all of the US population at that time). By October, this had increased to 80% of Republican or Republican-leaning voters (versus 64% of all voters).
Trump spoke often on the campaign trail about stamping out ISIS. However, above all he knows how to play to the crowd and he will keep faith with his followers’ wishes by making American national interest the overriding priority of all foreign policy, Limaye said. And those national priorities will have to be explained in terms ‘that make sense to a businessman’.
‘This is not quite isolationism but it is a very different calibration of American engagement.’
Photo:Getty Images/Zach Gibson