Trump has done what he said he would. So, what's next?
Republicans hoped he would turn out to be a conventional conservative. Democrats hoped he would not do anything too drastic, and maybe even strike a few deals.
But the best guide to what Donald Trump would do as president appears to be what he said he would do as president.
Trump’s executive order banning immigration from certain majority-Muslim countries—one of his most controversial and widely dismissed campaign promises—has sparked a panic among his critics about what else President Trump might actually do: create a Muslim registry, deport undocumented immigrant children, try to take oil from ISIS or kill terrorists’ families.
Those campaign promises were all laughed off and dismissed by many, just like when he tweeted about sending federal enforcement into Chicago or stripping flag burners of their citizenship—or even changing the libel laws to sue reporters or throwing Hillary Clinton in jail.
“I was one of the folks that had hoped that he was just saying things to get elected and that he didn’t really believe in them,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who after the election sent an email to his supporters urging them to move past the election and be proud of a peaceful transfer of power. “I’m now convinced that I was wrong. We should not give him a chance to govern. I believe he is a danger to the republic.”
To the people who latched onto the famous distinction between taking Trump seriously and literally on the campaign trail, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said only, “Just watch.”
Becerra’s counterpart, Eric Schneiderman of New York, noted that Trump showed during his first week in office that the political landscape had shifted in a way some had not expected.
“People are just not prepared for the fact that we’re not dealing with a regular Republican versus Democrat battle here, we’re dealing with an administration that its first week has demonstrated that it doesn’t have much respect for the rule of law,” Schneiderman said. “We’re in for a bigger challenge to our Constitutional fabric than we’ve faced in a very long time in this country.”
To Trump’s circle, there’s nothing surprising or problematic about anything he’s done so far, in either substance or manner.
“President Trump talked about this throughout the campaign and the transition and he's doing exactly what he told the American people he was going to do,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer put it on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
Trump’s been running his White House as he ran his campaign, down to the intense pace of news to keep changing the focus and his aggressive tweeting. And to the surprise of few, he's been running his White House with the same tiny circle of controversial but empowered aides that he staffed his campaign with--including Steve Bannon Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner.
“If anybody thinks that anything Donald Trump said during the campaign is off the table because he’s now president, they haven’t been paying attention to Donald Trump,” said Brad Woodhouse, the president of Americans United for Change. “I think Donald Trump is capable of doing anything and everything that he would do on the campaign trail.”
Republicans are just as unclear about what happens next. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican who has been a frequent Trump critic, became one of the first to put out a statement criticizing the executive order with a statement on Saturday. His office declined a request to discuss how it’s changed his own sense of what’s ahead in the Trump presidency.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) backed the ban and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to condemn it, a reminder that for the outrage in the streets and in the media, there are clear constituencies for what Trump did, both out in the country and in Congress.
And Trump himself has dug in completely, in official statement out Sunday night, a series of tweets Monday morning blaming any problems not on the order itself but extenuating factors, and in comments in the Oval Office a few hours later.
Democrats are already recalibrating to prepare for what’s next.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), another candidate for DNC chair, released a statement Sunday jumping ahead to what he thinks will be one of the coming battles: “Expect Trump and his henchmen to push restrictive photo ID requirements, limit early voting and make it harder to even register to vote.”
“As Americans, we have to call out the con early, and actively push back on attempts to demonize undocumented people and to constrict the rights of citizens,” Ellison said.
Democrats are now looking at new ways to delegitimize Trump, including a likely mass boycott of his address to a joint session of Congress Feb. 28, which takes the place of an official State of the Union in the first year of any presidency. Lieu said the goal needs to be building momentum toward the midterms with the hopes of taking the majority, and “I do believe that if we win back the House of Representatives, impeachment proceedings will be started.”
On top of all the ways he thinks Trump will hold to his campaign promises in ways few seemed to expect, Becerra said, he’s also concerned about the ways he’s convinced Trump won’t, like his pledge not to cut Social Security and Medicacre.
“This presidency I don’t think has a fulcrum,” Becerra said, “and I think we should get accustomed to that.”