Washington, United States | AFP |
Two weeks on from his election victory, Donald Trump shows every sign that he will govern as he campaigned — with late night tweet storms, attacks on the press and a flirtation with the extremes of US political life.
True, the president-elect has backed off a threat to have his defeated opponent Hillary Clinton investigated. And, in calls with foreign leaders, he has reassured them that military alliances are not in danger.
But his first appointments were red meat to his fans on the so-called “alt-right,” he maintains a stream of taunting tweets and — in his latest provocation — he offended a key ally by urging Britain to swap its ambassador for a friend of his.
In a video laying out priorities for his first 100 days in office Trump made no mention of building a wall on the Mexican border, but an advisor was photographed bringing him a plan to stringently vet Muslim travelers.
In common with his predecessors, the Republican billionaire has been in no hurry to name a cabinet, leaving the reporters gathered under his Trump Tower office in New York chasing after rumors as he holds court above.
And if the Washington political class was expecting Trump the populist provocateur of the campaign trail to use his hiring choices to move to the institutional mainstream, it could well be disappointed.
Trump did indeed hire political insider Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus as his White House chief of staff to, in the words of one transition team official, “make the trains run on time.”
But the day’s headlines were dominated by the parallel appointment of self-described “economic nationalist” Steve Bannon as Trump’s head of strategy, a move hailed by extremist fringe groups.
Trump’s first cabinet pick was to nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions — who opposes maintaining the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark in federal civil rights legislation — as attorney general.
And his choice to lead the CIA, Representative Mike Pompeo, believes US intelligence agencies should be free to intercept Internet traffic and telecoms metadata from foreigners and US citizens alike.
Trump’s chosen National Security Adviser, retired general Mike Flynn, is a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency best known for dining with Vladimir Putin and for taunting Clinton with chants of “Lock her up!” at Trump campaign rallies.
Moderate ears did prick up when Republican former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a stern Trump critic during the campaign, was invited to one of the president-elect’s golf clubs at the weekend.
Romney, a familiar moderate conservative figure since his failed 2012 presidential bid, would be a reassuring choice as secretary of state for many US allies around the world.
But Romney — who has called Trump a phony and a con man — left the course without anything being announced, and Trump loyalist and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is also in running for the post.
In the meantime, without a chief diplomat, Trump has been conducting US foreign relations solo, reaching out to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on Monday with a startling suggestion.
“Many people would like to see @Nigel_Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States. He would do a great job!” he tweeted, referring to the former leader of the opposition UK Independence Party, a Trump ally.
Farage, a provocateur whose party has only one seat in the British parliament, revelled in the attention, but Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was less impressed, insisting there was “no vacancy”.
“We have a first rate ambassador in Washington doing a very good job,” Johnson told MPs. Kim Darroch, Britain’s former national security adviser, took over the post in January.
Trump has also renewed his feud with much of the US media, reportedly berating TV network bosses at an off-the-record meeting on Monday then, on Tuesday, cancelling then reviving talks with the “failing New York Times” in a Twitter rant.
But why would Trump, a 70-year-old billionaire and reality television star whose defiance of political norms led him to win the world’s highest office in his first foray into an election, change now?
According to two opinion polls published Tuesday, a majority of voters are optimistic that his efforts to “make America great again” will lead the nation to a brighter future.
According to data from Quinnipiac University, most voters think he should stop tweeting but, by a margin of 59 to 37, most “are optimistic about the next four years with Donald Trump as president.”
Time to give thanks
A similar CNN/ORC poll found a narrow majority, 53 percent of voters, found Trump would do a good job.
Trump advisers would not rule out or rule in any nomination announcements Tuesday, when the president-elect was otherwise due to meet executives and columnists from The New York Times.
After that, he was due to take a family Thanksgiving break at another of his golf resorts, in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.