Political News

4 early predictions about Trump that went bust

Posted January 16, 2018 2:56 p.m. EST

— What kind of president will Donald Trump actually be?

That was the big question in late 2016 and early 2017, following Trump's gobsmacking election triumph. Even after some 16 months on the campaign trail, the incoming President arrived in Washington as something of a mystery to many Americans, including, as it turned out, a few of those poised to work close at his side.

Political prognosticators, White House aides and even Trump's outgoing predecessor would weigh in with a mix of predictions, promises and old truisms, the kinds of assessments that greet every new president. But Trump quickly made clear, through words and deeds, that the old standards no longer applied.

Here are four ideas about Trump and his presidency that all held at least some mainstream currency at this time about a year ago -- each of them now, if not laughable, then a testament to how profoundly the conventional wisdom surrounding the presidency, and the person inhabiting it, have changed.

1. Trump will change once he assumes the responsibility of the office

Maybe it was wishful thinking or a nudge to one particular audience member, but none other than then-President Barack Obama suggested, during a news conference days after the election, that the weight of the job alone might tamp down Trump's boisterous tendencies.

"This office has a way of waking you up," Obama told reporters. "Those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don't match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick because reality has a way of asserting itself."

Obama seemed to be referencing his own experience and calling back to an old chestnut about how the awesome power of the presidency can subdue, or reorient, its occupant. Not so for Trump, who has carried on during his first year in the Oval Office pretty much as he did on the stump in 2015 and 2016.

The former first lady, Michelle Obama, offered what turned out to be a more prescient take while campaigning for Hillary Clinton.

"The presidency doesn't change who you are, it reveals who you are," she said, revisiting a line she'd used before while stumping for her husband.

2. Trump will be a master negotiator

One of Trump's big selling points throughout the campaign, especially at the onset, as he sought to distinguish himself from the career politicians vying for the Republican nomination, was his reputation as a deal-maker. The story always had some holes in it, but enough voters were clearly interested in seeing how his decades in private business would translate into a different kind of executive job.

Again, though, reality has clashed with those hopes and expectations. Though Trump is clearly inclined to do deals, and relishes taking the big seat in any boardroom situation, he's failed to pass any meaningful legislation across party lines. His signature tax reform was done with a bare Republican majority utilizing budget reconciliation measures even though it's likely to add $1 trillion to the deficits. He also struggled to bridge gaps within the GOP congressional conference, which failed to repeal and replace Obamacare when negotiations broke down in the Senate.

Trump's penchant for moving the goalposts -- promising insurance for everyone or, as alleged more recently, shifting positions on a DACA deal within a couple of hours -- has actually been a hindrance to potential deal-making.

His grasp of the issues, too, has come under tons of scrutiny, most recently and notably when he openly agreed -- on live TV -- to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's suggestion that Congress pass a bill to protect DACA recipients before and separately from the GOP's other immigration concerns. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy jumped in to quash the prospect seconds later, but the incident further undermined Trump's claims to being a top-level negotiator.

3. He should be taken seriously, not literally

He wasn't the first one to say it. In fact, he was only one of what seemed like millions. Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor and Trump supporter, summed up his candidate's appeal -- and what the press didn't understand -- not long before Election Day.

"I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media is always taking Trump literally," he said. "It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally."

The root of this point, one intended more as an inverse analysis of Trump's supporters than the man himself, spread over time and began to color views of what his presidency might be like. But it was, at least for those on the left, mostly wishful thinking.

As we reported early and often, on the major issues Trump has been -- or tried to be -- exactly the kind of president he pitched to American voters.

4. Trump will set off a lasting populist revolution

This view was promoted most clearly by since-deposed former chief strategist and campaign chief Steve Bannon, who shared his view of a future dominated by Trumpism not long after his old boss became the president-elect.

Here's how he explained it in a 2016 interview with, you guessed it, Michael Wolff in The Hollywood Reporter:

" 'The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f---ed over. If we deliver' --- by 'we' he means the Trump White House --- 'we'll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we'll govern for 50 years. That's what the Democrats missed. They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It's not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.' "

As usual, Bannon covers a lot of (shaky) ground in quick bursts of chatter, but his fundamental argument -- that Americans were ready to sign on for a half-century of right-wing populism in the halls of federal power -- so obviously misunderstands Trump and his way of thinking.

From the jump, Trump has employed a cadre of Wall Street veterans (the same "globalists" Bannon derided and did battle with during his time at the White House) and pursued economic policies in line with establishment Republican dogma. The tax cuts he signed last year were the logical end point, giving massive, permanent breaks to corporations and, well, a mixed bag to individuals and lower-earners.

The populist part of Trump's presidency, as it turned out, has been more evident in his culture warrior tweeting than any meaningful policy initiatives. Not quite the stuff that feeds and sustains a multi-generational movement.